Amid the Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ movement, high court to hear gun rights case

Published 3:00 pm Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Taking an ironic cue from the “sanctuary” movement used by mostly liberal communities that decided to take stands against enforcement and implementation of federal and state immigration laws and policies with which they disagreed, the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement was born in recent years.

The original sanctuary community movement on the immigration issue held that cities or counties that declared themselves as “sanctuary cities” would simply decline to enforce immigration laws and policies or use public local tax dollars to be expended to enforce those same laws.

In the so-called Second Amendment Sanctuary movement, proponents take the same strategy on federal or state gun laws which local government officials believe are in violation of the Second Amendment. They adopt local resolutions or take other steps to declare that they will simply not recognize or enforce gun laws they believe violate the Second Amendment.

In 2020, Mississippi House Bill 753 sought entry into an intrastate compact with other Southern states to do just that. The bill died in committee, but to date more than a third of Mississippi counties have adopted some form of Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution.

Opponents of the movement say that local governments don’t have the authority to pick and choose which federal or state laws they will obey and enforce and that while “symbolic” they have no force of law. Proponents say by recognition and tacit acceptance of “sanctuary cities” on immigration, the federal government has in great measure legitimized the practice.

Legal scholars question whether the Second Amendment Sanctuary concept will withstand legal challenges.

Gun rights issues remain top of mind in Mississippi and other states in the South and the Midwest among pro-gun voters and among anti-gun voters on the East and West Coasts – clearly a highly partisan issue. In that highly charged political environment, the nation’s highest court is about to take the new supposedly conservative majority out for a legal spin on the issue of gun rights after another significant recent round of mass shootings across the nation.

The Supreme Court hasn’t spoken to gun rights since Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh took their seats on the nation’s highest court — and certainly not since Justice Amy Coney Barrett was appointed to succeed the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

The high court agreed last month to hear a substantial gun case from New York that would seem to take up the gun rights issue where the Heller case left off some 13 years ago. The new case under review will examine a New York law requiring people seeking a license to carry a weapon outside the home to show “proper cause” as to their need for the weapon.

In 2008’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that gun rights did not inure only to those in a “well-regulated militia” as anti-gun forces argued but to individuals in their homes — which affirmed the pro-gun arguments in the case and overjoyed the National Rifle Association.

But the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia also wrote something else in the Heller decision that the NRA didn’t applaud: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”

Scalia would also assert the belief that “like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited” and that it is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” Justice Coney Barrett was Scalia’s law clerk and shares many of his views.

Over the same period, Congress hasn’t passed substantial gun legislation since 1994, when a partial ban on making or possessing semiautomatic assault weapons was passed. Twenty years later, the law expired during the George W. Bush administration.

But Congress and the White House are now controlled by Democrats dedicated to enacting more restrictive gun laws. The stage is set for a highly partisan showdown on gun rights involving all three branches of the federal government.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at sidsalter@sidsalter.com.