Gun rights push would make Michigan counties Second Amendment sanctuaries

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

A northern Michigan radio show host is helping to organize a push in Michigan’s 83 counties to adopt resolutions affirming Second Amendment gun ownership rights, but the reach or perceived overreach of those resolutions could vary by location.

The Facebook group gathering volunteers for the initiative, the Michigan for 2A Sanctuary Counties group, started less than a month ago and had more than 75,000 members as of Tuesday. One of the administrators, Randy Bishop, said the group has volunteers in all of Michigan’s 83 counties pushing county commissioners to adopt pro-Second Amendment resolutions. 

Second Amendment marchers milled around on the sidewalks and lawn of the capitol, and in a tent erected for the event.

“We believe if they don’t support this resolution they’re in violation of the state Constitution and need to resign tomorrow,” said Bishop, who goes by “Trucker Randy” on his northern Michigan radio show. 

So far, at least five counties in Michigan have resolutions pending or about to be introduced to their commissioners. A state lawmaker hopes to introduce similar language on the House floor.

But the resolutions being pushed by advocates like Bishop appear to differ from what’s being considered in some counties, where the language stops short of encouraging local law enforcement to ignore any future laws that infringe on Second Amendment rights. 

“That’s not in the wording for St. Clair County because you’ll never get the sheriffs on board with that,” said state Rep. Gary Eisen, a St. Clair Township Republican who drafted the resolution for the county and hopes to introduce a similar resolution in the state House. 

“Whether other counties want to do that, it’s up to them,” Eisen said. “But I think you have to start with something that’s more reasonable and a little easier to understand.”

The push was inspired by a mixture of "red flag" legislation introduced in the state Legislature in February 2019 and a letter signed by Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and 11 other governors on Sept. 11 that urged President Donald Trump and the U.S. Senate to pass “common sense gun legislation,” Bishop said. 

The "red flag" legislation would allow family or law enforcement to request an “extreme risk protection order” in circuit court for someone who “poses a significant risk of personal injury to himself or herself or others" by possessing a firearm.

Virginia also served as inspiration, Bishop said. 

More than a hundred local governments in Virginia adopted resolutions at the end of 2019 declaring themselves a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” with the intent to oppose any “unconstitutional restrictions” on the right to keep and bear arms, the Associated Press reported. The effort occurred after Democrats promising new gun control laws won majorities in both chambers of the Virginia Legislature during the November elections.

The aim of Bishop’s group is to adopt similar language to Virginia, though the passage of similar gun control legislation is unlikely in Michigan's GOP-led Legislature. 

“The county commissioner, the county sheriff and the county prosecutor — by adopting this resolution — would not enforce that unconstitutional law in their county,” Bishop said. 

Macomb County’s Board of Commissioners Government Oversight Committee on Wednesday will consider a resolution that appears to follow the Virginia resolutions more closely. 

The resolution, introduced by Commissioner Phil Kraft, affirms support for the sheriff if he chooses “to exercise sound discretion to not enforce unconstitutional firearms laws” and prohibits the board from appropriating funds “for the enforcement of any unconstitutional firearms laws.”

“This resolution sends a clear message to our state and federal leaders that Macomb County will not allow our Second Amendment right to be violated in any way,” Kraft said in a statement Monday, noting commissioners swore to uphold the state and federal Constitutions. 

“Approving this resolution shows the residents of Macomb County that we oppose any attempts to undermine our rights,” he said. 

Macomb County Sheriff Anthony Wickersham, who learned of the resolution from media Tuesday morning, said he is a supporter of the Second Amendment and swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. But other than budgetary oversight, the board of commissioners has "no control over me and that resolution doesn't have any authority."

"If they’re going to put it in a resolution and it's going to affect or direct the sheriff, you’d think the writer of the resolution would pick up the phone," said Wickersham, a Democrat.

In Monroe County, Commissioner Greg Moore Jr. expects to finalize the language of his resolution this week for consideration on the board’s Jan. 21 agenda. He’s still weighing whether to include language of support for the county sheriff and prosecutor if they choose not to enforce gun control laws. 

“We don’t want to overstep our bounds legally,” Moore said, noting both the sheriff and prosecutor’s offices have their own authority and that county resolutions are not legally binding. 

“It’s more a support of the Second Amendment,” Moore said. “I didn’t think it was going to be that divisive of an issue because every county commissioner on our board swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.”

The language in St. Clair County, which will be considered Thursday, affirms the state and federal rights to “keep and bear arms” and urges Legislature and Congress to “vigilantly preserve and protect those rights.”

In the Upper Peninsula's Delta County, Democratic Commissioner David Moyle plans to discuss a similar resolution during a Tuesday night work session. 

The resolution, which he collaborated on with the county sheriff, is more of a "symbolic motion" expressing trust in the sheriff and prosecutor's ability "to exercise sound judgement," Moyle said. 

"The resolution would be doing nothing but affirming the Constitution," he said. "It's basically requesting that the Constitution be enforced. And you can’t take the Constitution by a piece here and a piece there.”

Marquette County Commissioner Gerald Corkin expects a similar resolution will come before his board in the coming weeks and he plans to support it. But no county resolution could supersede state and federal law, he said. 

“It’s guaranteed in the Constitution so I don’t know what the resolution will do,” Corkin said.