Last week, seven counties in Texas passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries”: Callahan, Cherokee, Eastland, Erath, Fannin, Waller, and Young counties.
The resolutions have all declared — in at least similar wording — that the counties will not “authorize or appropriate government funds or resources … for the purpose of enforcing law that unconstitutionally infringes on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
With the counties last week, the total number of counties in Texas to pass such resolutions is now over twenty, about a tenth of all Texas counties.
The movement has grown much more rapidly in other states, though.
Throughout November, dozens of counties in Virginia passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions.
The spark for their movement came after Democrats gained a majority in both houses of their state legislature and then introduced legislation that would make it a felony to possess semi-automatic rifles and handguns with fixed magazine capacities larger than ten rounds.
Concerned about the potential new law, frustrated citizens have rallied at the local level for reassurance that any unconstitutional firearm restrictions will not be enforced by the county government.
Similar movements have happened in states like New Mexico and Colorado, where state governments have considered or passed stricter gun regulations like “red flag” laws.
While the Texas legislature will not convene again until 2021 unless a special session is called, many rural Texas counties have proactively passed the sanctuary resolutions.
Edwards County was the first in Texas to pass one in June 2018, but that resolution went largely unnoticed by the media.
Hudspeth County passed one in March and then the movement in Texas started gaining more attention in July when the Democratic Commissioners’ Court in Presidio County passed one unanimously.
At the September Democratic presidential debate that was held in Houston, former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke made a comment that went viral: “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.”
His comment struck the wrong chord with many Texans, as gun owners began calling their local officials urging them to pass sanctuary resolutions.
“They’re trying to get out ahead of this a little bit,” said Ed Scruggs of Texas Gun Sense, a gun control advocacy group. “I think they wouldn’t be doing this unless they were a little worried that change is coming. I think they know that some change is coming. This is just their way to try to shape that.”
With a push led by Sheriff Roger Deeds, Hood County passed a sanctuary resolution in October, and other counties began following suit.
The largest county to pass a resolution was Montgomery County in mid-November, but Collin County also passed a resolution reaffirming their constitutional oath to show their support of the Second Amendment later in the month.
While most gun rights advocates have embraced the resolutions as an additional safeguard against stricter gun regulations, some have spoken out critically about it.
The Texan spoke with Amy Hedtke, a gun rights advocate who had given a public comment against the resolution when it was introduced in Ellis County.
“What is happening now [after the resolution has passed?” asked Hedtke. “What was happening [before]? What has changed? If nothing has changed, then you didn’t actually do anything.”
Hedtke pointed out that the resolutions are especially ineffective if the resolution is written in such a way that as long as a judge says that a new gun law is constitutional, then it will be enforced by the sheriff.
She wants to see local governments and county sheriffs refuse to enforce current gun restrictions, such as requiring a permit to carry a handgun.
“I think if you look at those resolutions they’re written so vaguely, they’ll say, ‘We’re not going to enforce any law that infringes on the Second Amendment.’ Well, what does that mean?” Scruggs told The Texan. “That’s so subjective. Who’s going to determine that? Is that going to be determined by the sheriff or a vote of the people? It’s so vague that they really couldn’t do that.”
Scruggs also said that he has never heard of a case where law enforcement actually did not enforce a particular law, but if it occurred, it could lead to a major lawsuit.
For example, if stricter red flag laws passed in Texas, he said that if “something happens where a red flag law might have prevented an incident [but wasn’t enforced], you would be asking for one of the biggest lawsuits in state history.”
Though it may not be effective legally, Scruggs notes that as a political statement it is probably effective in shaping public opinion — and sending a message to elected officials of these rural counties. “It’s all about sending a message and that’s what these resolutions are getting.”
While many commissioners courts in rural Texas counties have fewer meetings during the month of December because of Christmas, Hanukkah, and other holidays, there could still be more counties to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries in the coming weeks.
Eddie Moore, a commissioner in Navarro County, said he has received many calls urging him to introduce the resolution and is planning to do so at the next meeting on December 9.
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Daniel Friend is a reporter for The Texan. He participated in a Great Books program at Azusa Pacific University and graduated in 2019 with a degree in Political Science. He has studied C.S. Lewis’s science fiction trilogy and in his spare time you might find him writing his own novel partly inspired by the series.