By Sally Beauvais
Officials in Brewster County declined to adopt a “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution in commissioners court on Wednesday.
The county is now the fourth in Far West Texas to consider taking on the designation — as local gun rights advocates urge their representatives to join a movement made up of other counties and municipalities primarily across the rural, western U.S.
Officials in nearby Hudspeth and Presidio counties both adopted resolutions labeling themselves as sanctuaries for gun owners earlier this year. A similar proposal was tabled last month in Jeff Davis County.
What does it mean to be a sanctuary for guns?
Primarily, “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions are symbolic statements that reaffirm a locality’s belief in citizens’ right to own firearms, while signaling opposition to measures of gun control.
But the scope of the resolutions varies from place to place. Some call on local governments to resist directives from higher powers that proponents say would compromise the Second Amendment. In Colorado, sheriffs in some sanctuary counties are refusing to enforce the state’s new red flag laws set to take effect in 2020.
Before approving Presidio County’s resolution, Judge Cinderela Guevara removed language implying the county could restrict spending for the purpose of enforcing regulations that “infringe” on the Second Amendment.
“I worry that it might actually harm us, by declaring a sanctuary,” Brewster County Commissioner Sara Colando said on Wednesday. “That term is not defined in any legal sense.”
Colando added that for county to adopt the resolution and then act on it in any sense would put them into “dicey legal territory.”
Brewster County locals show their support
Dozens of area residents turned out in support of the resolution at the county courthouse in Alpine.
Resident J.R. Smith reflected on hunting rabbits with his father as a kid. “Before we stepped into the field, every time, he said, ‘Son, don’t ever let ‘em take your guns away.’”
Broadly, supporters of the “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement across the country believe that legislation restricting access to guns threatens their fundamental right to bear arms. To some, every layer of regulation amounts to another small step by the government towards disarming the general public.
Rhetoric from certain conservative political leaders in Texas who seem willing to make concessions on gun policies in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso and Odessa worries this group.
“Even if this great nation decides, heaven forbid, to rescind and remove the 2nd Amendment,” local pastor Wendel Elliot said on Wednesday, “that does not take away the individual rights that God has granted to each and every one of us, as individuals, to defend themselves from others, from harm…but more importantly, from a tyrannical government.”
Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson — who formally presented the agenda item alongside Monica McBride, chair of the county’s Republican Party — spoke in support of gun rights in general, indicating that people in the county need them for self-defense .
“There’s no way that the guys we have can protect everybody’s home in this county at one time. It’s just impossible,” he said.
Dodson also mentioned that he owns a gun shop, and admitted he is “very partial to guns.”
The constitutionality debate
Commissioner Betse Esparza told residents in attendance that while she’s a proud supporter of the Second Amendment, she could not support the resolution.
“I imagine there will be some chatter in the next couple of weeks about my values, which is unfortunate,” Esparza said.
She explained that because the commissioners court is an extension of the state government, they don’t have the power to determine whether or not a statute is constitutional — which she felt the resolution would require of them.
“Commissioners court does not have the authority to enforce it. It has no teeth. And to vote for it would be to acknowledge a willingness to ignore the oath I took to uphold the constitution of Texas and of the U.S.,” Esparza said.
Others in the audience implored the county officials to consider that, as elected officials, they have a moral responsibility to judge the constitutionality of legislation.
Commissioner Colando, who also voiced support for the Second Amendment in general, cited advice given to officials in neighboring Jeff Davis County as they consider a similar resolution.
“The legal advice from [Texas Association of Counties] was…Texas counties have no authority to create a sanctuary for or against weapons. Any resolution on the subject is a simple expression of opinion of the majority of the commissioners court. Therefore any language of the resolution should be drafted to avoid implying any legal effect,” Colando read.
She stated that the draft of the resolution in front of her failed to avoid that implication.
Commissioner Mike Pallanez joined Colando and Esparza in voting against the resolution, adding that his constituents are concerned about AR and AK-style weapons.
County Judge Eleazar Cano and Commissioner Ruben Ortega voted in favor.
It’s unclear whether supporters will bring another version of the resolution in front of the county leadership in the near future.