By Carlos Morales
After a heated discussion that brought more than 60 people into the Presidio County Judge’s chambers, county commissioners approved a resolution labeling the county a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”
The designation appears to be the first of its kind in Texas and follows a trend of cities, counties and states across the country — mainly in rural pockets of the U.S. — that have labeled themselves as “sanctuaries” for gun owners. As they’ve been set up in other communities, these resolutions seem to follow the structure behind sanctuary city ordinances that limit local cooperation with federal officials when it comes to enforcing immigration laws.
The resolution’s eventual passage came after nearly two hours of debate in a crowded room filled with dozens of area ranchers and members of the county’s Republican party who came to give their support behind the resolution.
“The problem we have is with people that are scared of guns, people that just don’t understand,” said Gregory Romeu, one of a handful of people who gave testimony to county commissioners.
Those that spoke in favor of the resolution detailed stories of needing to protect their properties and families. Many said they believed their Second Amendment rights were being threatened by the federal government.
“Signing this resolution, like I said, would just be a silent shot across the bow,” said Romeu to county leaders. “Don’t mess with Texas, and definitely don’t mess with Presidio County.”
No one at Wednesday’s meeting spoke out directly against the resolution. County commissioners prefaced their hesitations regarding the proposal by saying they respected and believed in gun rights — but several did take issue with the language in the proposition.
As it was originally written, County Judge Cinderela Guevara said the proposal contained passages she considered to be “questionable” and might stir legal trouble for the county.
“The commissioners’ court, all the powers that we are able to exercise come from the Texas constitution,” said Guevara. “We have to stay within those parameters.”
Guevara pointed out several areas she was most concerned about to commissioners and to County Attorney Rod Ponton. One passage of the resolution read that county leaders would regard “any regulation that violates the Second, Ninth, Tenth or Fourteenth Amendments to the constitution” to be unconstitutional “and therefore by necessity, unenforceable and invalid.”
But Guevara said the passage would put commissioners outside the scope of their authority.
“I just want to reiterate, we cannot declare a statute to be constitutional or unconstitutional…,” said Guevara.
Guevara also took issue with the following paragraphs in the resolution:
“The criminal misuse of firearms is due to the fact that criminals do not obey laws and this is reason to abridge an unalienable, constitutionally guaranteed rights of law abiding citizens. Criminals will always possess firearms regardless of any laws restricting their use and the People [sic] must have a means to protect their lives and property…”
“The last protectors of the United States Constitution are the County Sheriffs and “We The People of the United States of America” and our ability to fulfill that role successfully rest on our Second Amendment rights.”
“The Presidio Government will not authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of such acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules or regulations, that infringe on the right of the People [sic] to keep and bear arms.”
That last passage, said Guevara, would’ve restricted the budgeting powers of any future commissioners courts — something she said the current court is unable to do.
After laying out the issues she found with the resolution, Guevara suggested it be modified and brought back for discussion at a later time. At this time, Commissioner Frank “Buddy” Knight said he felt the resolution simply “reaffirms that we believe in the constitution and the Second Amendment.”
Commissioner Eloy Aranda and other officials said they wanted input from County Attorney Rod Ponton, who had stepped outside of the judge’s office. Once he returned, Ponton suggested commissioners amend the resolution if they wanted to.
“We would be the first county to pass this, so I would want it to be absolutely right to where no one could question what we passed,” said Guevara.
At this moment the county judge’s office erupted with shouts of, “people will always question you,” “take a chance,” and “maybe if we started, the other counties would continue.”
Ponton told commissioners “the resolution is not illegal” as it was originally proposed, but would advise commissioners on any reservations or changes they had.
At this point, Guevara brought up her issues with the resolution once again, and one by one — most of the passages she mentioned were removed from the resolution.
One of the paragraphs, however, was simply changed to read that Presidio County residents would regard any regulation that violates the Bill of Rights (the original version listed specific Constitutional Amendments) to be “unconstitutional, and therefore by necessity, unenforceable and invalid, furthermore…”
Stripped of what commissioners considered to be the most contentious language, county leaders moved to adopt the resolution.
Commissioner Knight motioned for the resolution’s approval and Judge Guevara swiftly seconded the motion to loud, boisterous cheers. Commissioners Aranda and Brenda Bentley also voted in favor of the proposal. Commissioner Jose Cabezuela was absent.
“That piece of paper, all that’s going to do is tell the rest of the state of Texas and the United States, don’t tread on us,” said Romeu.
Following Wednesday’s meeting, Marfa Public Radio attempted to verify the changes to the resolution with Guevara. At the time she indicated the entire passage that would regard regulations violating the Bill of Rights to be “unconstitutional” had been stripped.
“It’s not within our purview to determine what’s constitutional or not,” said Guevara, echoing statements she made earlier during the discussion.
However, during Wednesday’s meeting it appeared that passage had been included in the passed version of the proposal. It remains unclear what the exact language of the final version of the resolution is. Marfa Public Radio has requested a copy of the Second Amendment sanctuary declaration, but as of Thursday, the document had yet to be formally filed.
As it was passed, it’s unclear exactly what bearing the resolution has on county governance.