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February 27, 2020

Second Amendment ‘Sanctuaries’ Gain Traction in New York State

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As counties across the nation have declared themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries” in opposition to state and federal gun-control legislation, many of Tompkins County’s neighbors are mounting similar movements.

While New York State has yet to see a county officially declare itself a Second Amendment sanctuary –– a measure that aims to impede the enforcement of certain firearms rules –– the movement is gaining state-wide traction.

Nearby Chenango, Broome, Chemung, Steuben and Otsego counties are all working towards similar acts, each having already passed a county-wide petition in opposition to the SAFE Act, a 2013 legislation that sparked intense backlash among many upstate communities.

Sanctuary counties claim such regulations –– including universal background checks and bans on fully automatic weapons –– to be unconstitutional. Nationally, over 400 municipalities across 20 states have passed resolutions declaring themselves “sanctuaries” from these laws.

The SAFE Act, passed in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, sparked intense backlash among many upstate communities. The legislation called for broader restrictions of semi-automatic weapons, a universal background check provision, tougher sentencing and a ban on high-capacity magazines that has since been found unconstitutional.

In 2019, Wyoming County, about two hours west of Ithaca, passed a resolution in opposition to the SAFE Act, declaring it unconstitutional and claiming to uphold residents’ Second Amendment rights.

While local resolutions are largely symbolic gestures, municipalities also have the power to pass ordinances that can have a greater effect on obstructing state enforcement.

Steve Felano, founder of Second Amendment rights organization 2AWNY, said on his website that efforts are underway in over a dozen New York counties to pass legally binding ordinances in opposition to the SAFE Act and other gun-control legislation.

State attorneys general in Virginia, Washington and Colorado have spoken out against county resolutions in their respective states, asserting that they have no legal force.

However, local resolutions and ordinances still prove a challenge for counties insofar as local law-enforcement tacitly supports them. In multiple states, county sheriffs have explicitly announced their personal support for county sanctuaries despite being required to continue upholding state law.

In New Mexico, 30 of the state’s 33 county sheriffs have announced such support –– in Nevada, all 17 state sheriffs.

But at this time, there appears to be no solid indication of such a movement taking hold in Tompkins County. The Ithaca Police Department has declined to comment on the basis that Ithaca is not currently a Second Amendment sanctuary.