Borough assembly passes 2nd amendment ‘sanctuary’ ordinance

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly voted recently to make the borough a Second Amendment “sanctuary.”

The assembly voted at its July 7 meeting, held via Zoom, to affirm its commitment to supporting citizen rights to keep and bear arms. The ordinance, sponsored by Mayor Charlie Pierce and Assembly members Jesse Bjorkman, Norm Blakely and Kenn Carpenter, opposes the passage of any legislation that would “restrict individual rights protected by the Second Amendment” of the U.S. Constitution. The ordinance also declared the borough a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”

Assembly member Hal Smalley proposed a substitute ordinance that scaled back the original, but the substitute was voted down. Assembly President Kelly Cooper then proposed her own set of amendments to the ordinance which passed. The ordinance, as amended by Cooper, passed 6-3 with Brent Johnson, Hal Smalley and Willy Dunne voting against it.

Cooper’s amendments clarified that, as a second-class borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough does not actually have law enforcement powers. Police powers in the borough come from either city police departments or the Alaska State Troopers. Cooper also amended the ordinance to be clear that it only applies to parts of the borough that are outside of city limits, and that the assembly is standing as a “sanctuary for Second Amendment rights” only within the scope of the borough’s legal authority and within the limits of the U.S. and Alaska Constitutions.

Her amendments also added another clause to the ordinance, which encourages citizens to “engage in firearm safety training to responsibly enjoy their second amendment rights.”

In explaining her amendments, Cooper clarified that she’s a supporter of the Second Amendment. Her husband was a hunter and she has shot guns herself, she said. She said it’s important, however, to be clear with the public about what the borough has the power to do, and what it doesn’t have the power to do in regard to enforcing or resisting laws regarding firearms and the Second Amendment made at the state level or in cities.

“I just think that it’s important … and responsible for us to clarify what our authority is,” Cooper said. “Yes we do support the Second Amendment. No we do not have that authority. And we need to make sure that our people in our communities understand that so we do not have misuse or misrepresentation of language that we pass.”

Bjorkman said during his comments that he believed the original ordinance was fine as written. He also asked the city attorney to describe what would have to happen for the borough to become a first-class borough. It would take a vote of the people, she explained.

Bjorkman asserted that there are threats to the Second Amendment in Alaska.

“There are bills being filed that people would like to be passed that would remove a bit of due process, that would remove some people’s rights,” he said.

Bjorkman did not cite specific legislation as an example.

In his comments supporting Cooper’s amendments, Dunne said the assembly members have given an oath to uphold the Alaska Constitution, which already has protections for Second Amendment rights.

“The original ordinance as written was completely unacceptable in my point of view because it did things that were unnecessary,” he said. “For one thing, (the state statute on Second Amendment rights) makes the whole ordinance unnecessary. It states that local governments cannot use funds to support unconstitutional restrictions to firearms.”

Several members of the public joined the virtual Zoom meeting to speak against the ordinance. One of them was Seward-area resident Linda Lasota, who said she was in strong opposition.

“I think it’s inappropriate and not necessary,” she said. “… I don’t object to the Second Amendment. I don’t object to guns. I object to my assembly thinking this is more important than all the things that you should be doing right now.”

Homer area resident Greg Sutter spoke in support of the amendments made by Cooper.

“I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment,” he said. “It’s in our U.S. Constitution, and also in our State Constitution — the right to bear arms.”

Sutter owns a business in the Fritz Creek area and spoke about what he sees as a need for increased safety training for gun owners. He mentioned issues he’s had in that area in the past.

“We’ve had numerous incidents out here with stray bullets,” Sutter said. “One went straight through one of my windows. … So I think we really need to hone down and emphasize safety.”

There were also a number of written public comments submitted for the meeting, both in favor and against the ordinance.

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