PI County OKs gun rights resolution
County board splits on vote before packed house
ROGERS CITY — A round of applause broke out after the Presque Isle County Board of Commissioners on Thursday narrowly approved a measure to declare the county a Second Amendment sanctuary.
Commissioners approved the measure 3-2, with Chairman Lee Gapczynski and Commissioners Mike Darga and Nancy Shutes supporting the measure. Vice Chairman Carl Altman and Commissioner John Chappa cast the dissenting votes.
The resolution is non-binding. All governments must follow the Constitution, and both state law and federal law trump local ordinances.
Many of those who spoke at Thursday’s meeting saw the resolution as a way to push back on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and legislators in Lansing who have supported gun control and so-called red flag laws, which allow firearms to be temporarily removed from someone who poses a risk to themselves or others. The laws also would restrict that individual from purchasing a gun during that time. Many lawmakers have pushed for such changes after deadly mass shootings in recent years.
In September, Whitmer joined governors from 11 other states to call on President Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell to pass gun legislation.
Shutes, who asked for the resolution to be put on the meeting agenda, said it saddened her that commissioners “even had to go this far.”
“I just think it’s sad that we’ve come to this, that we just can’t abide by the Constitution in the first place” Shutes said.
Altman, who first read the resolution on Thursday, said he was “a little disappointed” commissioners hadn’t held a public hearing and wished he had more time to consider the motion. He said he didn’t like the word “sanctuary,” because it gives people the idea commissioners are “OK with anyone running around with a weapon.”
He remembered when Presque Isle County Sheriff Duane Badder was shot and killed in 1979. At that time, Badder was responding to a call involving a man who had shot at his neighbor’s home.
“Does it have merit?” Altman asked of the resolution. “Absolutely, it has merit. I don’t disagree with it. I’m just not certain of (whether) there are ramifications to either its approval or disapproval.”
Chappa thought supporting the resolution was “a big mistake.” The resolution says the sheriff and prosecutor would not enforce any unconstitutional firearms law, but the sheriff and prosecutor don’t determine what’s constitutional, he said. The courts do.
“I don’t think we need to be giving them that kind of discretion or authority, because it may come back to bite us in the you-know-what,” he said. “We’ve gone through a period here a few years back where we had all kinds of lawsuits because some of the departments weren’t following the law, and I don’t think we need to go back down that road.”
Chappa proposed an alternate resolution, but it was not considered by commissioners.
Chappa’s proposed resolution, a copy of one approved by the Marquette County board last week, would have reaffirmed the board’s support for both the U.S. and Michigan constitution, including all amendments, but stopped short of declaring the county a Second Amendment sanctuary.
Marquette County’s attorney had said the Second Amendment sanctuary resolution exceeded that commission’s authority.
Several counties around the state have considered the Second Amendment sanctuary resolution in the wake of Whitmer’s comments.
The Alpena County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday postponed a vote on the same resolution until next month. That meeting, too, was packed with sometimes rowdy residents. Alcona County officials are discussing the resolution, but it has not been put on a meeting agenda.
It’s unlikely new gun laws will pass in Michigan. Though Whitmer is a Democrat, Republicans control both chambers of the Legislature.
More than 40 people attended Thursday’s meeting at the county courthouse.
When the courtroom seating was exceeded, residents spilled into the hallways.
Six residents of Presque Isle and Cheboygan counties urged commissioners to pass the resolution, while two Presque Isle County residents spoke against the resolution.
“I realize this resolution is probably non-binding, but we have to send a message to Lansing,” Rogers City resident Mike Leow said. “They’re in a totally different world than we are in northern Michigan. We can’t let it get to the point, where it is in Virginia, when they’re banning certain firearms, certain magazines, especially the red-flag laws, because there’s no due process.”
Cheboygan resident Joe Knight saw the resolution as a way to reaffirm the Second Amendment and said it asks law enforcement officers and prosecuting attorneys to use “good, sound, reasonable judgment” before making a decision.
Onaway resident Roger Marsh, who is a retired police officer, said that, while he doesn’t have a problem with unstable people not having firearms, he doesn’t agree with red-flag laws, which he called “legally, constitutionally, and morally wrong.” He said such laws also put law enforcement officers in danger.
“Anytime our rights are being trampled on, we as a people, have the right to stand up and defend ourselves against tyranny and unjust laws,” he said.
Speaking against the resolution, Allis Township resident Wayne Vermilya said it’s unacceptable for elected officials “to promote and spread what amounts to Russian propaganda.”
“We have to seek the truth, and we have to do that on the basis of fact,” Vermilya said, after providing commissioners with pictures of the 20 children and seven adults who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Rogers City resident Rachel Goodstein said she was “pretty sure” it wasn’t the county commissioners’ job to assert what is constitutional.
“I love all of the amendments and all of the amendments we have are subject to regulation,” she said.
Crystal Nelson can be reached at 989-358-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.