Like hundreds of local jurisdictions before it, Des Moines County, Iowa recently passed a  resolution claiming to establish the county as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” It sounds like a bold step against gun control, but in practice, it creates a sanctuary for nothing.

On Feb. 22, the Des Moines County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the resolution, which included the following declaration:

“Therefore it be resolved that the Des Moines County Board of Supervisors hereby declares Des Moines County to be a Second Amendment Sanctuary County, and hereby states its opposition to the enactment of any legislation that would infringe upon the constitutional right of the people of Des Moines County to keep and bear arms.”

Des Moines County is the 35th Iowa county to pass such a resolution. Hundreds of others have passed similar measures in other states, such as Virginia, Florida and elsewhere.

This has as much practical impact as me declaring myself an NHL hockey player. It doesn’t do anything to stop the enforcement of unconstitutional gun control, as the county attorney conceded.

“Basically, it’s just them politically stating as a board that they resist any gun legislation that they feel would restrict someone’s rights to carry firearms, but as far as legal authority, no. Law enforcement and our office are still obligated to abide by the law regardless of whether we agree, disagree or have our own opinions about it.”

The problem with this measure isn’t that they’re passing a non-binding resolution. This can be a good first step in resisting unconstitutional gun control by setting the stage for further action. The problem lies in passing it off as something that creates an actual “sanctuary.”

Using the word “sanctuary” implies gun owners will be safe there. But as the city attorney admitted, the resolution isn’t legally binding. And it won’t stop cops from enforcing anything. Gun control will be enforced in Des Moines County — by local and county police — just as it will in every other county that hasn’t specifically banned such enforcement.

The real problem in calling these counties “sanctuaries” it muddies the water. Claiming a resolution such as the one passed in Des Moines County establishes a “sanctuary” creates the illusion that the government has done something it hasn’t. Because counties actually can create real Second Amendment Sanctuaries by passing ordinances that ban local officials from enforcing federal gun control.

This was James Madison’s strategy.

The federal government relies heavily on state cooperation to implement and enforce almost all of its laws, regulations and acts – including gun control. By simply withdrawing this necessary cooperation, states and localities can nullify many federal actions in effect. As noted by the National Governors’ Association during the partial government shutdown of 2013, “states are partners with the federal government on most federal programs.”

Based on James Madison’s advice for states and individuals in Federalist #46, a “refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union” represents an extremely effective method to bring down federal gun control measures because most enforcement actions rely on help, support and leadership from state and local governments.

Judge Andrew Napolitano agreed. In a televised discussion on the issue, he noted that a single state taking this step would make federal gun laws “nearly impossible” to enforce.

But the strategy followed by Des Moines County and most other self-proclaimed sanctuaries is to pass a resolution and keep right on enforcing.


The debate in Des Moines County revolved around the definition of “unconstitutional” and who decides constitutionality.

There was a great deal of confusion.

One board member claimed, “Any law that we have is a constitutional law.” He then admitted he didn’t know what an unconstitutional law is.

Des Moines County Sheriff Kevin Glendening did a better job explaining constitutionality.

“An unconstitutional law would be any law that’s not consistent with the Constitution. That’s why both the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of Iowa has a segment in it that states that any law passed not in accordance with this is not constitutional, is not a lawful law. There are laws that are passed on a regular basis that are not constitutional.”

The county attorney chimed in saying, “It’s ultimately up to the courts to decide what’s constitutional.”

None of this matters.

Des Moines County can refuse to participate in the enforcement any federal law or regulatory program whether it’s constitutional or not. It can refuse to enforce a federal gun law just because it’s Tuesday and it’s cloudy outside.

Any state or locality can legally bar state agents from enforcing federal gun control. Refusal to cooperate with federal enforcement rests on a well-established legal principle, based on Madison’s advice in Federalist #46, known as the anti-commandeering doctrine.

Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program. The anti-commandeering doctrine is based primarily on five Supreme Court cases dating back to 1842. Printz v. U.S. serves as the cornerstone.

“We held in New York that Congress cannot compel the States to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program. Today we hold that Congress cannot circumvent that prohibition by conscripting the States’ officers directly. The Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers, or those of their political subdivisions, to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program. It matters not whether policy making is involved, and no case by case weighing of the burdens or benefits is necessary; such commands are fundamentally incompatible with our constitutional system of dual sovereignty”

No determination of constitutionality is necessary to invoke the anti-commandeering doctrine. State and local governments can refuse to enforce federal laws or implement federal programs whether they are constitutional or not.

A real Second Amendment Sanctuary would simply stop enforcing specific gun-control measures. It wouldn’t quibble over constitutional definitions. It would follow Madison’s advice and refuse to cooperate.

End of story.

Sadly, a vast majority of this current “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” movement is little more than posturing and rhetoric.

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