Gun supporters take aim at US firearms laws by carving out ‘sanctuaries’

Enforcement of America’s modest federal gun laws banned in growing number of Second Amendment sanctuaries

Gun-rights supporters across the US are voting to enact local laws that bar police from enforcing most federal firearms regulations -- essentially telling Washington that when it comes to guns, the government's writ does not apply to them.

The movement is gathering pace as gun advocates worry near daily mass shootings will prompt Washington to tighten some of America’s lax firearm regulations.

President Joe Biden, who has called the gun violence crisis an "international embarrassment", has issued executive orders aiming to address the issue and on Wednesday he took aim at illegal gun dealers.

In a bid to thwart federal gun laws, an estimated 1,500 jurisdictions have in recent years declared themselves "Second Amendment sanctuaries", mimicking left-wing democratic cities that called themselves “sanctuaries” for immigrants illegally residing in the US.

From small towns to states like Nebraska and Montana, local politicians have declared that the 18th-century constitutional right to bear arms outweighs most existing federal firearms laws -- or any new ones.

In Arizona, new legislation gives the state's gun laws primacy over any federal regulations.

"The feds can try and come into our state to enforce these unconstitutional gun grabs, but it will go nowhere," Leo Biasiucci, a state representative who sponsored the bill, told The National.

"My bill makes it clear that any gun laws that are implemented at the federal level will not apply in the state of Arizona if they do not align with our state gun laws.”

Mr Biasiucci said the Arizona statute, which makes it illegal for state and local officials to enforce federal firearms laws, was “100 per cent enforceable”.

But the legality of such measures and similar laws in state and local jurisdictions has not yet been tested.

That soon will change, however, as a court in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest has been asked to rule on the issue.

Columbia County, located about 50 kilometres north of Portland and home to about 50,000 residents, has been a gun sanctuary since 2018 and voters last year reaffirmed that status.

But the law is confusing for local officials, who want to know if they are allowed to ignore state and federal gun laws.

"We want to be able to direct the district attorney and the sheriff [on] what can and cannot be prosecuted," county spokeswoman Julie Thompson told The National.

“That is why we are sending it to the court for judicial examination. … The board of commissioners does want to uphold the will of the voters but there are legal questions.”

Geoff Bickford, executive director of the Maine Gun Safety Coalition, said gun sanctuaries have no legal standing.

"The term doesn’t really mean anything. These declarations are worth the paper they are printed on, which means not very much,” he said.

"It’s a matter of basic civics. Towns and municipalities cannot choose what laws they chose to enforce, nor can sheriffs or local law enforcement."

In America, where guns outnumber people and about 40,000 die in gun-related homicides and suicides each year, it is notoriously easy to buy a firearm.

But federal law bans anyone with three or more serious convictions from owning a gun, and it is illegal to bring a gun into a school, carry a weapon while committing a violent crime or to use a stolen gun.

Federally licenced firearms dealers are obligated to carry out background checks on potential owners, though this requirement does not apply to private sales or those made at gun shows.

In April, Mr Biden unveiled a series of measures focused gun violence including a ban on “ghost guns” that are sold in kits and are untraceable as they have no serial numbers.

He wants to do more, though meaningful reform is unlikely for now, given opposition from not only Republicans but, in an equally divided Senate, West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin.

On the campaign trail, Mr Biden promised to ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons, as well as outlawing high-capacity magazines that allow shooters to unleash sustained and devastating attacks.

He has also promised to introduce universal background checks, covering the estimated 22 per cent of gun sales that are subject to no scrutiny whatsoever, allowing weapons to fall into the hands of mentally ill people and those convicted of domestic violence.

Police, who frequently are most at risk from gun violence, are torn about the need for tighter laws, said Arthur Rizer, a former law enforcement officer and director of Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties at the R Street Institute in Washington.

“There is a schizophrenic relationship between gun rights and the police. Many are quasi-conservative and support gun rights, but at the same time, they are the ones who feel the brunt of loose gun laws,” he said.

Christopher Galdieri, an associate professor of politics at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, said gun sanctuaries are a popular political move in conservative America.

"If you are a Republican chair, county commissioner or local official supporting this sort of thing, it scores points with gun owners and people who feel they are being left behind culturally by Joe Biden and the progressives," he said.

In the US, county sheriffs also have to face the voters, unlike urban police.

Politically, it makes sense to fall into line with the wishes of their community, said Richard Mack, who heads the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.

"There will be more sheriffs doing this: if they don't, they won't get re-elected."

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