For nearly a dozen years, the routine has been the same for Hood County Sheriff Roger Deeds.
A constituent or two would approach him convinced that the federal government was coming for their guns and that he would help them. Deeds would do his best, one at a time, to reassure his neighbors that wasn’t the case.
And yet these same counties are part of a national movement. Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions, as they’re often called, have been passed in counties and cities in Colorado, Virginia and Illinois,where its believed the movement got its start, among other states.
They’re a symbolic reaction by mostly conservative local elected officials and law enforcement officials to tighter gun control laws established by Democratically controlled state legislatures.
In Hood County, Deeds worked with other local officials and drafted several different versions of a resolution that would do just that for his county commissioners to consider — some multiple pages long. Finally, he sent a 257-word resolution that grants him discretion “to not enforce any unconstitutional firearms restrictions against any citizen.”
The resolution, which won unanimous support from the commissioners court, also prohibits any county money, employees or other resources to help enforce any law that “unconstitutionally infringes on the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”
“I’ve been accused of overdoing it,” Deeds said. “But a lot of people are concerned about their constitutional rights. People have a lot of things to worry about in their daily lives. This shouldn’t be one of them.”
Acts of defiance
There is a long history of local elected officials pushing back against federal and state law. And it can serve both a pragmatic and democratic purpose, said Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson.
“Counties forever have taken the view that they have limited resources and need to allocate those resources to their population,” he said. All levels of governments have to evaluate their needs and put money where they think most appropriate.”
Oftentimes, those decisions go unnoticed. But in highly charged national debates such as immigration, abortion or guns, it stirs the discourse, he said.
To counter tough immigration laws, cities have been declaring themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants for decades. In 2018, there were about 400,according to the Immigrant Legal Resource Center. That largely means that police and other city agencies do not report the immigration status of those seeking services to federal authorities or hold those wanted by the federal government for longer than legally allowed. More recently, some cities have passed resolutions claiming they are sanctuaries for the unborn,with laws that ban abortion in the city limits.
“Any broad policy is going to have resistors,” he said. “And the question is whether that resistance comes to public attention.”
Texas has witnessed four mass shootings in a little over two years — that left a combined 65 people dead. After the most recent violence in El Paso and Odessa, Gov. Greg Abbotthinted he’d be open to some reformssuch as closing background check loopholes. And Democrats have pushed for a special session. But in the months since the shootings, it’s unclear if any legislation will emerge from Austin before the next regular session in 2021.
One idea that has come into vogue with gun control activists and lawmakers are so-called “red flag laws” that allow authorities to temporarily seize a person’s guns during an investigation to determine if they are a threat to themselves or others.
The proposal is also popular with voters. Nearly 70 percent of Texanssurveyed by The Texas Tribunein October supported the state adopting such a law.
Critics of the laws, which exist in nearly 20 states, suggest they rob individuals of their due process. However, that argument has not been tested in court yet.
Mike Cox, a lobbyist for the Texas State Rifle Association, said the Second Amendment resolutions adopted by counties should send a clear single to lawmakers in Austin that Texans aren’t interested in any form of gun confiscation.
“Gun owners will need to continue to make their voices heard at the ballot box and at the next legislative session,” he said.
Ed Scruggs, board president of Gun Sense Texas, a political nonprofit that advocates for stricter gun laws, said he is surprised to see these resolutions pop up in such a gun-friendly state.
“People feel they need to draw lines to be prepared,” he said, alluding to the 2020 election in which Democrats hope to reclaim the state House of Representatives for the first time since 2003.
He also downplayed the significance of the resolutions and suggested imposing them would be more difficult than voting for them.
“It’s one thing to make a political statement, it’s another to actually enforce,” he said. “A lot these resolutions are so vague.”
Not only are they vague, they also aren’t very uniform. While the resolution in Hood County draws a clear line in the sand, the Collin County resolution doesn’t even mention the word “gun.” Instead, it “reaffirms” the oath commissioners took to defend the state and federal constitution.
Collin County Judge Chris Hill, who sponsored his county’s ordinance, acknowledged the movement is mostly symbolic, but his voters want to be reassured of their rights.
“Symbols have meaning,” he said. “Citizens want to know that their elected officials are going to be faithful to their oath of office.”
Ellis County Commissioner Paul Perry, who sponsored his county’s resolution, said he’s prepared to go further and craft policy based on the resolution.
“We’re not playing,” he said. “I believe my constituents want this. In the long run, they’d prefer something even stronger.”