As the calendar had turned into 2020, Pendleton County Fiscal Court was voting on Pendleton County becoming a gun sanctuary county. They did and Carolyn Reid's coverage won third place in Best General News Story.
Pendleton County is a sanctuary for guns
With a roll call vote that was unanimous and was taken in front of a standing-room-only crowd, the Pendleton County Fiscal Court passed a resolution on Friday night, January 3, that makes Pendleton County a Second Amendment Sanctuary for the state. The move came in response to a growing concern across the state regarding pre-filed bills at the state level that serve to limit gun use and ownership at various levels and the new governor’s support of restrictions in situations where a threat is perceived, so-called “red flag laws.”
The vote in favor of the resolution was met with thunderous applause.
At the outset of the meeting, Judge/Executive David Fields explained the reason for the proposed resolution. “When I was first notified about the five gun control laws that had been pre-filed on the state level, I knew that it was something that would need to be watched,” he said. “I had conversations with both our legislators about these bills, and both assured me that these bills would not even be considered; however, on December 17, 2019, Harlan County passed a resolution [to make the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary], and Marshall County had a first reading of an ordinance [with the goal of making it by law a Second Amendment Sanctuary county]. On that same day, I started receiving calls from citizens and members of the fiscal court for me to gather information toward doing this for our county.”
Fields said that in response to the actions in those counties and to the increasing contacts he and the magistrates received, he inquired at the state level and through the Pendleton County Attorney Stacey Sanning about the direction which Pendleton County should take, a resolution or an ordinance. An ordinance is passed to create law while a resolution is issued to express the Court’s policy or other such communications. A resolution was the recommended path because one of its purposes is to make a public statement from the Fiscal Court. An ordinance could have caused legal concerns for the county at the state level. Case in point, Marshall County has postponed a vote on their proposed ordinance until their sheriff and lawyers meet with Kentucky Attorney General David Cameron to clarify the county’s legal position regarding their ordinance. Their ordinance allows for no local funds to be used to enforce unconstitutional gun control laws and would consider state or federal restrictions on firearms null and void. Their county attorney has advised that the county has no authority to make such ordinances as they work to override state and federal law.
The Marshall County scenario is what Fields and the court wished to avoid, as he later explained, so he and the court chose to make a strong political statement of a resolution. Fields told the gathered crowd, “My thought was that it would be best to present this and possibly pass this prior to the state legislators going into session next Tuesday, January 7, 2020.This was done to send a message to state legislators letting them know where we stand, that we stand united, and that we stand with other counties that have passed similar resolutions.”
The business at hand during the last special-called meeting prevented the vote from occurring, he explained. “December 30 was impossible because we had to pay the bills….Today at this time was the only time the entire court could meet before the new legislative session began.”
Counties that have put resolutions on the books hope that their stance is a reminder to their representatives and senators that they have been voted in by the people of the state, and they can be voted out by those same people if they choose to pass laws that appear to
violate the Constitution.
At Fields’ request, Marianne Roseberry, Fiscal Court Clerk, read the resolution, after which Fields called for a motion to vote on the resolution as written. Rick Mineer of District 4 made the motion to vote on the resolution, stating that he felt the court should “move strongly ahead due to the outcry of the public,” and Darrin Gregg of District 3 seconded. As the roll-call vote commenced, Fields invited the magistrates to comment on their votes. Each magistrate expressed his constituents’ overwhelming support of the resolution. Mineer, at his vote, declared that the county would stand by the Second Amendment, and that the county would move forward, united as one.
Fields echoed that with the vote, the resolution demonstrated that the county stands united in its support for the Second Amendment, but the work of the people should not end with the vote. He encouraged all in attendance and all in the county to contact the Kentucky legislators, saying, “You all will speak more than what this [resolution] does.”
Fields called upon Rep. Mark Hart who was in attendance to speak to the audience. Hart began by commending the fiscal court for its actions, and he stated that he supported the efforts taking place in counties all across the state. He also encouraged those in attendance to call Frankfort. “We need individual voices to support this in Frankfort,” he explained. “They need to hear what people have to say.
“The opposition is very, very, very, VERY minute in Frankfort, and we have 65 to 73 counties that have either passed resolutions or that have this on the docket.”
Hart confirmed that four bills regarding firearms restrictions had been pre-filed in the House, and one “red flag” law had been pre-filed in the Senate. He also stated that some had been filed before this session, and those bills had never been granted even a hearing.
“Both Democrats and Republicans show support for the Second Amendment,” he said. He said they would do all they could to make sure there were no gun control laws in the state.
Following Rep. Hart’s comments, Fields opened the floor to comments and discussion from the audience. Some took the time to thank the court for its passage. One son of immigrant parents expressed concern that they knew so little history that they could not see that the government could erode rights just as his parents saw it happen in Nazi territories. One expressed concern that few young people were at the meeting, and he blamed the current educational requirements imposed by the state and a lack of understanding of the Constitution because of those requirements that overlook those basics. “When will we become an educational sanctuary?” he asked Hart, and that remark received some chuckles and some agreement from the crowd. Hart replied that his Education Committee was working to improve the current educational system.
Others expressed concerns regarding who does own guns. “I am a gun owner, but I don’t want a nut to have guns,” one stated. This prompted a discussion from Hart on “red flag laws” themselves.
“The attractive thing about these laws,” he stated, “is that they are supposed to be pre-emptive, to prevent bad things from occurring. The problem is that they, as they are written, violate due process. The person who is being affected can’t face the court to defend himself, and this is a violation of the U.S. and State Constitutions.”
Magistrate Josh Plummer acknowledged this concern over “red flag laws” with this reporter as he shared what he heard from his constituents. He acknowledged that people saw the problems with who could get guns, but they also saw a bigger threat if such laws were passed.
“Fear and perception are leading to the ‘red flag” laws,” he explained, “but people also see legislation to address concerns as nipping away at their Second Amendment rights. It’s like a thread that dangles from the sleeve of your sweater. You give it a pull, and sooner or later, that sleeve is gone. It’s the same if we start putting legislation into place that restricts guns or anything else in the Constitution. If we pass ‘red flag laws,’ what will be next?
“And they can be misused. If you want to get back at someone for something—say a bad break-up or something like that, and the person has a bad temper—a ‘red flag’ law could let you go in and say that person shouldn’t have a gun because he or she has a bad temper and could use it in a bad way, and that would be enough to have a person’s rights taken away. Things could be manufactured just to get back at a person, and his rights would be violated without any way for him to defend himself against the lie.”
As far as the threat of firearms falling into the wrong hands, Plummer echoed what a member of the audience stated. “We have measures in place with background checks and those kinds of things, but they are ineffective if they aren’t being used.”
But Fields final comments before calling for the vote possibly best expressed the desires of those present and many of those who could not be present. “Gun owners--and I am a gun owner myself--have the right if we decide we want to go hunting, we can go hunting. The same goes for sport shooting, or even for personal protection. The Second Amendment gives that right to each of us, and we will stand against any legislation that would restrict that right.”
At the end of the audience discussion, Fields assured everyone that copies of the resolution would be sent to both Rep. Hart and Sen. Schroder. The meeting was adjourned.