Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly along with the borough mayor have embarked on a pointless effort to declare the borough a “Sanctuary for the Second Amendment,” an entirely unnecessary response to sensible and judicious gun-control efforts in Alaska and around the nation.
Ordinance 2020-29 is to be introduced at Tuesday’s regular assembly meeting on June 16. It is sponsored by Mayor Charlie Pierce and Assembly Members Norm Blakely, of Soldotna, Jesse Bjorkman, of Nikiski, and Ken Carpenter, of Seward.
If adopted, it would declare the borough a “Second Amendment Sanctuary,” committing it to a policy of refusing to enforce state and federal legislation it deemed restrictive of Second Amendment rights. What exactly does that mean for a Second-Class borough with no police powers?
The national movement behind this ordinance stole the language of the Sanctuary City Movement that aimed to protect immigrants — documented or not — from abusive federal civil codes. Local governments are not required to spend local tax dollars to help federal authorities enforce civil law.
Ordinance 2020-29, however, would place the borough in the position of declining to enforce criminal law governing who can carry and under what conditions. Neither the borough nor its subset of cities has the authority to do that.
The pertinent “therefor” clause reads as follows:
“That the assembly hereby expresses its intent to uphold the Second Amendment rights of the law-abiding citizens of the Kenai Peninsula Borough and that public funds, resources, employees, buildings or offices not be used to restrict Second Amendment rights or to aid or assist in the enforcement of the unnecessary and unconstitutional restriction of the rights under the Second Amendment of the citizens of the Kenai Peninsula Borough to keep and bear arms.”
That certainly begs a huge question: Who gets to declare a law passed by the Alaska Legislature or the U.S. Congress unnecessary and unconstitutional? Cadres of so-called “patriots” who like to parade around armed to the teeth? I hope not. The Kenai Peninsula Borough? It lacks the power precisely because state laws supersede municipal ordinances.
Indeed, only Alaska Courts can declare a law unconstitutional.
Alaska law (Title 29) specifically declares the authority to regulate firearms is “reserved to the state.” The borough is constrained from enacting any law restricting firearms that are not “identical” to state law. That constraint also means the borough cannot decline to enforce laws merely because local elected officials or their constituents don’t like them. For cities that have police powers, state gun laws represent an enforcement requirement that is not discretionary.
Though subject to federal jurisdiction, Alaska’s gun laws are minimal and reasonable by any measure. As long as you’re 21, Alaska requires no registration or permit to carry rifles, shotguns and handguns. They prohibit guns in or near schools, unless locked in the trunk of a car and the owners are of age. Firearms are banned from courthouses, day-care centers and shelters for victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Nor is one permitted to carry a weapon into a bar, or when drinking. Are the sponsors actually proposing that the borough be put in the position of declaring such reasonable statutes unconstitutional?
The Second Amendment is in the Bill of Rights. It needs no “sanctuary.” Those who believe it is so weak it requires the toothless “protection” of third- or fourth-level governments like boroughs, counties and cities misunderstand the Constitution, don’t fathom the real meaning of the Second Amendment nor grasp the limitations placed upon it by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Declaring one’s borough a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” may have rhythmical appeal to the paranoid ears of reactionaries, but the designation will have absolutely no power under state or federal law. The borough has far more important business to attend to. It cannot afford to enact an ordinance destined to lose a constitutional challenge.
Hal Spence is a former Homer News and Peninsula Clarion reporter now retired. He lives in Homer with his wife Lynn.