When one of the Pennsylvania Legislature’s most conservative members announced her desire to pass “Second Amendment Sanctuary” ordinances that defy state and federal gun laws, the temptation at first was to laugh and shake your head in disbelief.
In barely a year in the state House, Rep. Stephanie Borowicz, a Republican who hails from rural Clinton County, has proven to be anything but shy when it comes to courting controversy. So when Borowicz dropped her press release on “Second Amendment Sanctuaries,” it barely registered as a ripple on Twitter.
But as The Trace, a site that tracks gun violence-reduction efforts reports, there’s plenty of reason to pay attention. That’s because Borowicz has quietly inserted herself into a movement that stretches across “more than 400 municipalities in 20 states.”
If the term “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that. As The Trace reports, backers purposefully modeled them on so-called “Sanctuary Cities,” where local officials decline to cooperate with federal immigration authorities.
“We’re just stealing the language that sanctuary cities use,” Bryan Kibler, the state’s attorney in Effingham County, Illinois, told the Associated Press in 2018, according to The Trace.
The county approved its own “gun sanctuary” in April 2018, according to published reports, saying gun laws then under consideration by the Illinois General Assembly were unconstitutionally broad.
As The Daily Item of Sunbury, Pa. reported earlier this month, the state branch of a group called Gun Owners of America has volunteers working statewide on such ordinances. Officials in Bradford County, along the New York State border enacted such a resolution last December. Another northeastern Pennsylvania municipality is reportedly considering its own resolution.
In her statement, Borowicz said she was “expressing my complete support” for efforts in two counties in her district to protect law-abiding … residents against unconstitutional gun control laws imposed in Harrisburg or Washington, D.C.”
Among those measures are a proposed “red flag” law now before the Legislature that would allow police, acting on a court-order, to temporarily seize someone’s weapons if they believe they pose an immediate threat to themselves or to public safety.
These “extreme risk protection order” laws, as they’re formally known have been shown in other states to have reduced gun crimes and suicide.
While legal experts and others believe “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” are mostly symbolic and not legally binding, others say that they could lead to expensive litigation for local governments that decline to enforce state and federal gun laws.
“To the extent that police chiefs and especially prosecutors view these actions by local governments as reflections of widespread community sentiment, they may feel more comfortable in adjusting their own exercise of discretion in making arrests and in charging decisions,” George Mason University law professor Nelson Lund told The Daily Item. “At least in that sense, it is probably not accurate to characterize them as mere ‘publicity stunts.”
Ultimately, the final battle over these local ordinances will be waged in the courts.
“The proper procedure if law enforcement officers and local governments have issue with new laws is to bring legal action in the courts, and have courts determine whether those laws are constitutional,” Jonathan Lowy, the vice president of the legal action project at the gun reform group Brady, told The Trace.
There is no small irony here that the very legislators and officials pursuing these “sanctuary” protections are those who kick back the hardest when local officials, tired of federal and state-level inaction on gun violence-reduction issues, move to enact ordinances stronger than those in existing federal law.
Such was the case when officials in Pittsburgh enacted tough local ordinances in the wake of a murderous spree at the Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 that claimed the lives of 11 people.
Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican and outspoken gun-rights activist, called for Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s impeachment as a result.
Republicans already have an image problem with voters when it comes to gun issues. They’ll have even more explaining to do when a mass shooting erupts in one of their Second Amendment paradises.
An award-winning political journalist, John L. Micek is Editor-in-Chief of The Pennsylvania Capital-Star in Harrisburg, Pa. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek.