How are the crowds demanding their counties be declared a “Second Amendment sanctuary” like the anti-pipeline activists camped out in trees?

Both are engaged in a colorful act of futility that won’t accomplish what they think they’re accomplishing.

With those two sentences, we have now likely managed to offend people on both the left and the right, but the truth is an equal-opportunity offender.

First, let’s deal with the all the counties rushing — or being rushed by large crowds — to declare themselves a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” These resolutions are completely meaningless, unless counties really intend to defy whatever state laws might be coming when Democrats take control of the General Assembly in January. But that’s not really what these resolutions say. The language varies from place to place but most of these resolutions simply reaffirm the obvious: They support the U.S. Constitution, particularly the part about the right to bear arms.

OK, so?

Botetourt County, in its resolution, expresses concern that the bills being contemplated “could infringe upon rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment.” However, Gov. Ralph Northam points out that the gun bills he’s pushing have already been upheld by the courts in other states, such as universal background checks and “red flag” laws. These bills might or might not be wise, but they don’t appear to be unconstitutional — which means all these resolutions are simply a cathartic exercise that has no practical effect. A lot of people have been tricked into believing these resolutions actually mean something. Why are people so gullible?

For all the talk about how these bills, perhaps any gun bill, will “infringe” upon Second Amendment rights, we suggest people read the relevant U.S. Supreme Court decision — District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008. This was the landmark decision where the U.S. Supreme Court explicitly affirmed that the Second Amendment applies to an individual’s right to bear arms — not just a “well-regulated militia.” This decision, authored by Antonin Scalia, is obviously a very pro-gun decision, one celebrated by gun rights activists. However, let’s look at what Scalia actually wrote: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” He wrote about how courts have routinely held that “the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” He went on to say: “Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on long-standing 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.” As if that’s not enough, his very next paragraph then begins: “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms” and then goes on to talk about how, yes, the government can prohibit certain types of firearms.

The point being: Not every restriction on guns is an “infringement” on constitutional rights. Some of these crowds seem to believe otherwise. They are simply wrong. A conservative Supreme Court, in an opinion authored by the patron saint of “originalism,” said so. Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico County, showed up at the Amelia County Board of Supervisors meeting to announce his candidacy for Congress and declare: “I don’t understand what part of ‘shall not infringe’ they don’t understand.” This is grandstanding. He apparently hasn’t read the Supreme Court decision, either, because Scalia made things pretty clear. Liberals don’t like the Heller decision because it expanded gun rights, but the ruling still acknowledged limits that some gun rights advocates now apparently want to disregard.

These Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions obviously send a loud signal that rural areas aren’t on board with these proposed laws, but that’s hardly a surprise. They won’t deter an urban-dominated General Assembly from passing bills to banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. These crowds of gun rights activists are basically doing what Republicans accuse Democrats of nationally — failing to understand that they lost the last election (along with failing to understand the relevant Supreme Court decisions on the Second Amendment).

We hear some people trotting out musty legal concepts such as “nullification” and “interposition.” These are also the same things that segregationists tried to cite when they organized a “massive resistance” to integration in the 1950s. How did that work out? To say those concepts are discredited is to do a disservice to the word “discredited.” These arguments didn’t work for John C. Calhoun when he was living; they’re not going to work any better from the grave. Are any rural officials proposing to defy state law? A story in The Washington Post contains this passage: “My oath of office is to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” Amelia Sheriff Ricky L. Walker said Wednesday night as he waited for the supervisors to meet in this rural county west of Richmond. If a judge ordered him to seize someone’s guns under a law he viewed as unconstitutional, Walker said, he wouldn’t do it. “That’s what I hang my hat on,” he said.

Umm, he’s the sheriff, not a judge. It’s not his place to decide what’s constitutional and what’s not — that’s for the courts and the Supreme Court has already said the U.S. Constitution allows certain limitations on Second Amendment rights. The sheriff is either grandstanding, too, or not thinking clearly about what his oath really means.

If people don’t like the new gun laws that are coming, what can they do? Well, they can break the law, but we have some pretty clear consequences for that. Conservatives who believe in “law and order” should appreciate that. Or they can fight them in court — and see if courts will produce a new interpretation of the Second Amendment that is more to their liking. That’s where these gun rights activists are like the anti-pipeline activists. Sitting in a tree might save that particular tree — for a little while —but it doesn’t really save the forest. If the pipeline’s going to be stopped, it will be stopped in the courts. Every moment spent sitting in the tree is wasted opportunity — because the anti-pipeline activists could be out raising money to pay the lawyers. The gun rights advocates showing up at their local board of supervisors will eventually discover the same thing.

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