ALBION — Will Noble County become Indiana’s next Second Amendment sanctuary county?
The Noble County Commissioners are considering it.
On Monday, Scott Peters of the Noble County 2nd Amendment Sanctuary Movement made a presentation to the commissioners asking for the county to pass an ordinance to become a Second Amendment Sanctuary County.
“While politicians in Indianapolis threaten our Second Amendment rights we want them to know our county will not have any part of future gun laws that further infringe on our rights,” Peters wrote in an introduction to his proposed resolution.
Peters spoke to the commissioners, stating that he felt law-abiding citizens were under threat from new firearm regulations. He cited measures such as requiring expanded background checks, magazine size limits or monthly purchase limits as examples of new policies.
“We are seeing this play out in Virginia,” Peters said. “This must not stand.”
Peters said six counties in Indiana have already approved these types of resolutions, while there are hearings or action pending in 25 more.
Bartholomew County — the home of Vice President Mike Pence’s hometown on Columbus — and Elkhart County were examples of counties that either did not take up the effort or denied it.
Noble County Sheriff Max Weber and Steuben County Sherrif R.J. Robinson were both in attendance to listen to what’s being proposed. Weber said he has been working with the Noble County group a bit, while Robinson noted a Steuben County group has started but is running behind what Noble County has already put together.
After the brief presentation, Weber said the proposal provided by Peters would need to be thoroughly vetted by the county attorney before it could be considered and that there were a few issues he spotted upon an initial read.
Weber, who acknowledged he is a member of the Peters’ Facebook group, started by stating he and his staff would not engage in any kind of behaviors that gun proponents are worried about. His concern would be if the county decides to adopt something that it be both constitutionally sound and doesn’t impair law enforcement’s ability to do the job it needs to do in policing firearms.
“If you guys are fearful of things we’re going to do, we’re not. We’re not going to come knocking on your doors,” Weber said. “When you put things on paper it has to fall within those constitutional guidelines.”
On an initial read, two issues with the proposal were briefly discussed.
First, commissioners’ attorney Denny Graft noted some vague language regarding the word “person” without a definition. Without a good definition, “person” could include convicted felons or non-citizens, two groups who are statutorily not allowed to possess firearms.
Weber also noted some language regarding dismissing officers who infringe people’s gun rights. Because deputies are merit officers, any disciplinary actions or possible removal has to occur before the independent merit board, so the sheriff has no ability to fire officers himself.
Peters said the draft he presented was the one he liked the best after reviewing several templates, but that he expected and was open to county officials modifying it into something that works for them while maintaining the spirit of the ordinance.
“They gave us so many different templates to start with,” Peters said. “This one was the best one I was found. I knew I would come in here and you would want to change some of that.”
Graft and commissioners asked whether Peters could get a few of the other drafts as well as check on what language was passed in the other six counties so county leaders can compare and contrast and begin piecing together something that might work for Noble County.
Commissioners Anita Hess and Justin Stump tabled any action until their March 9 meeting, to give Peters time to collect additional materials.
“I’m a member of this Noble County site I’m also a member of the state site,” Commissioner Justin Stump said. “I fully support what we’re going after here. We just have to make sure we’re going at it the right way.”
Commissioner Gary Leatherman, a former Indiana State Police trooper and Noble County Sheriff, was absent from Monday’s meeting.
About a half dozen other second amendment supporters also attended the meeting and a few spoke in their support of the measure.
“I’m in full support of the Second Amendment,” said Jeremy Taylor. “Without the second amendment you lose the rest of them. As long as we all band together and work on this as one, our voices can be heard throughout the state.”
“I’m an American and this is what we stand for. I’m also a combat vet and I’ve been overseas and I can see the difference between their countries and this country,” James Dennis said. “I’m just glad to see people here and we’re all on the same sheet of music. We’ve got make sure what we do doesn’t infringe on our law enforcement.”
Gun sanctuary efforts have been on the rise nationally, even despite Republicans in control of the White House and a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, which is tasked with making the final rulings on firearm laws and restrictions in the country.
Indiana has a Republican governor — his wife is an National Rifle Association approved firearms instructor — as well as Republican supermajorities on both sides of the Statehouse, so any laws restricting gun rights in Indiana seem unlikely barring major challenges in the political balance.
Criticism of sanctuary laws are that local officials agree not to enforce laws that are “unconstitutional,” although sheriffs, police chiefs and other elected officials don’t have the authority to make that determination, which is instead a function of courts if the legitimacy of legislation passed appropriately by lawmakers is challenged.
Opponents also note that sanctuary laws can create some confusion about what’s legal and what’s now, leading people to engage in activities that are banned via federal statute. Federal law supersedes any local ordinances or state laws, so just because a sanctuary ordinance is in place doesn’t give a person leeway to do things made illegal by federal statute.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has had made case-by-case rulings on Second Amendment issues, justices have indicated the right to bear arms is not absolute.
In the Supreme Court Case District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, a case that struck down a handgun ban and that Peters’ draft ordinance cited in support of protecting firearm rights, opinion author and now-deceased conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote:
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”
In upholding the decision to strike down Washington D.C.’s ban, however, Scalia also wrote:
“Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.”