The Barrow County Board of Commissioners has expressed broad support for a resolution that would declare the county a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” but it’s unclear how strongly-worded the version eventually adopted will be.
Under the proposed resolution presented to the board at its Tuesday, Jan. 28 work session, the board would “affirm its support for the Barrow County sheriff in the exercise of his sound discretion to not enforce against any citizen an unconstitutional firearms law.”
No “agent, employee or official of Barrow County, or any corporation providing services to Barrow County” would be allowed to provide “material support or participate in any way with the implementation of federal acts, orders, rules, laws or regulations in violation of” the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, according to the resolution, and the board would commit to not authorizing or appropriating any funds or resources for those purposes.
The board is expected to discuss the proposed resolution and recommended changes by the county attorney and then hold a vote at its Feb. 11 voting session.
The resolution comes on the heels of similar ones across Georgia and around the U.S. The “sanctuary” resolutions are largely in response to a set of gun control measures passed this month by the Virginia state legislature, which have prompted backlash and protests from gun rights advocates who contest their constitutionality.
Democrats won control of the Virginia legislature in the November elections and have vowed, along with the state’s Democratic governor, to enact heavier gun restrictions. Three that have passed so far include limiting handgun purchases to one per month, universal background checks on gun sales and allow local governments to ban guns in various public spaces. Several other laws are still being considered by the legislature.
The Democrats’ push for tougher gun laws came amid the aftermath of a mass shooting at a municipal center in Virginia Beach that left 12 people dead.
Since November, more than 100 counties and municipalities in Virginia have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” and that movement has spread to more than a dozen states. Habersham County became the first in Georgia to pass a sanctuary resolution earlier this month, and numerous other counties in the state have either adopted or are actively considering resolutions. There are no indications that the Republican-controlled state legislature in Georgia, or Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, will make a push for tougher gun restrictions.
“I feel like this is Barrow County’s way to affirm to state and federal officials that the county is not going to spend any money or manpower restricting a gun owner’s rights to bear arms,” said Barrow BOC chairman Pat Graham, who said she proposed the resolution be put before the board.
But county attorney Angie Davis suggested several revisions to the proposed resolution. While the resolution states, “all federal acts, laws, orders, rules or regulations regarding firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition are a violation of the Second Amendment,” Davis noted “there may be some federal laws that are deemed constitutional” through the commerce, taxing and spending powers of Congress. She also said that “there are Supreme Court opinions that allow us to refuse to participate in the enforcement of federal laws, but not necessarily state laws.”
The Georgia Constitution states that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, but the General Assembly shall have power to prescribe the manner in which arms may be borne.”
Graham said that, based on her conversations with Sheriff Jud Smith, he would support the stronger resolution and would refuse to enforce any federal or state laws considered to be infringing on Second Amendment rights.
“At the end of the day, I’d like to hear what the sheriff says, and if he’s for the (original proposal without the county attorney’s recommended changes), that’s the one I’m for,” commissioner Joe Goodman said. “(The resolution) is about Barrow County stating we are in support of the Second Amendment, plain and simple.”
Commissioner Rolando Alvarez said he was in favor of the Second Amendment but wants a resolution that provides clarity about the county’s enforcement of existing laws and that doesn’t open the county up to future liability.
“I want make sure that anything we do is legal, has teeth and can be upheld, and that we’re not just doing something for the sake of doing it,” Alvarez said.
Commissioner Ben Hendrix acknowledged those concerns while signaling his support for the resolution.
“I trust the county attorney to keep us on the straight and narrow when it comes to risk,” Hendrix said.
Other items commissioners will vote on at their Feb. 11 meeting include:
•the reappointment of Larry Joe Wilburn, Tommy Stinchcomb and Tommy Jennings to the Barrow County Water and Sewer Authority for two-year terms that will expire Jan. 31, 2022.
•the reappointment of Wilburn to the Board of Ethics for a two-year term that will expire Dec. 31, 2021.
•the appointment of Robert Lanham (District 3) to the Barrow County Planning Commission to fill a vacated four-year term that will expire Dec. 31, 2020.
•a required five-year update to the county’s hazard mitigation plan.