Executive Committee shoots gun draft to County Board

The request by a Rice Lake resident, backed by 4,000 county petitioners, asking that a resolution be passed declaring Barron County as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary County” will be brought before the Barron County Board  of Supervisors at its 7 p.m. meeting on Monday, July 20 in the auditorium of the Barron County Government Center.

Signed by Ronnie VanErp, it said, “We are a growing group of concerned citizens; we are parents, grandparents, friends, family and neighbors. We are proud Americans and citizens of Barron County, Wisconsin, who would like to do what we can to preserve the freedoms fought for so long ago by our Founding Fathers.”

VanErp continued, “In light of legislative action in the State of Virginia threatening Second Amendment rights, as well as the views supported by the current Wisconsin governor, we feel that passing a resolution proclaiming Barron County as a Second Amendment sanctuary is both appropriate and timely. We would like to work toward  ensuring that our freedoms are protected and we are asking for your support.”

The Barron County Board’s Executive Committee has discussed the request at its last two meetings.

June discussion

At its June 3 meeting, when several of the backers of the Second Amendment resolution were present, County Board chair Louie Okey said it was a national issue, not a county issue, and his concern was it would lead to residents wanting county backing of other controversial national issues.

At that meeting, Sheriff Chris Fitzgerald advised the committee to be cautious and reminded those in attendance that he takes his orders from the U.S. Constitution, not from the County Board.

If the county was to adopt a resolution, Fitzgerald said he liked the one passed in Marquette County that addressed all the constitutional protections—“freedom of religion, speech, the press and assembly, the right to petition the government and to bear and keep arms, among other rights and protection from unreasonable search and seizure, criminal prosecution and punishment without due process, and guarantee a speedy jury trial by ones peers, among other protections.”

A resolution passed in Polk County in May relates only to the Second Amendment. Similar resolutions have been approved in Rusk, Washburn, Monroe, Vilas, Oneida, Langlade and Florence counties.  Sawyer County’s Public Safety Committee has recommended approval of a gun rights resolution by its County Board.

Supervisor/vice chair Don Horstman of Cumberland said a lot has happened in the last few months that Americans thought never could happen. He said if they cared enough about their gun rights to go to this extent, he would be agreeable with it.

Supervisor/second vice chair Burnell Hanson of Rice Lake, said, “I agree with supporting the Constitution. I just don’t know if we need to handle federal things. People chip away at Constitutional things all the time. If we endorse, what does that mean?”

Supervisor Stan Buchanan  of Rice Lake wondered if Barron County would be an isolated county if all other counties supported Second Amendment resolutions.

Supervisor Marv Thompson of Rice Lake  remarked, “If  we wanted to abolish the Second Amendment, that would be the time for people to come to us. That isn’t going on. It’s premature now.”

Supervisor Karolyn Bartlett asked for time to study the matter and resume discussion at the committee’s July 8 meeting.

“Sounds logical,” Hanson agreed. “I need to study it more.”

Discussion ended at that point and legal counsel was asked to draw up a resolution for the committee to consider at its July 8 meeting.

July discussion

Between the June and July committee meetings, a “Declaring  Barron County to be a Constitutional County” resolution was drafted for consideration, crafted by legal council, sheriff and administration.

The proposed resolution states, “The Barron County Board of Supervisors does hereby declare Barron County to be a Constitutional County and hereby states its opposition to the enactment of any legislation, state or federal, that would in any way infringe upon any right or protection provided to the people of Barron County by the Constitution of the United States of America.”

Okey reiterated remarks he made at the June committee meeting. “As I stated, I’m not against gun rights, but we support the Constitution and Bill of Rights in our oath. I don’t like to bring up national issues. ... We could go on and on. Are we going to address and reaffirm every one of them?”

 The committee chair then read an email that Daniel Agne of Rice Lake sent to all of the Executive Committee members at 3:53 a.m.,  just about 4 hours before the 8 a.m. meeting began.

It said, “I am writing in opposition to the proposed Constitutional County resolution being considered at today’s Barron County Executive Committee.

“This resolution is moot on its face and should be tabled/abandoned. Each of you already swore an oath to uphold the Constitution when you took office. How does it help the people of Barron County to re-state this in a resolution? Come to think of it, you also swore an oath to uphold the Wisconsin Constitution. Why is this not mentioned in the resolution? And why place so much emphasis on just the Bill of Rights? We all have some very important rights granted by the 13th, 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments too. Why not spell all of these out while we’re at it?”

Agne continued, “The only practical effect this resolution could have is giving a wink and a nod to right-wing radicals like ‘sovereign citizens’ and the Bundy family who infamously engaged in lengthy armed standoffs with law enforcement in Nevada and Oregon, based on their grade-school level understanding and very selective ‘me-first’ reading of the Constitution. These are folks who think they have a Second Amendment right to bear any weapon at all (including sawed-off shotguns, bombs, true machine guns, chemical weapons, etc.) I’m sure some of your constituents already hold some of these ridiculous views, but do we really want to encourage them (or recruit more of them?) Please just stop this silliness and move on to more important stuff that actually helps Barron County residents.”

Hanson said whether they pass the resolution or not won’t change the way things have been for the past 100 years.

Supervisor Bob Rogers, who is not on the Executive Committee but was allowed to speak, said, he took an oath to uphold the Constitution as a lawyer and all of them had taken that same oath as County Board members.

Rogers remarked, “Being told I can’t be trusted to follow the Constitution, that I need this sledgehammer over my head, I’m a little offended by the whole thing.”

He said while the Constitution provides the framework on how to operate, the Right to Bear Arms is fundamental but not absolute. He went on to share examples of laws that limit the rights of the Second Amendment, such as being found guilty as a felon or suffering from mental disease or defect.

Supervisor Bartlett said, “As I commented at the last meeting, I think it is up to  the County Board—all 29—not just us. I’m in favor of passing it on.”

She made a motion to that effect, seconded by Supervisor Horstman. It  passed 6-3 with Supervisors Okey, Hanson and Russell Rindsig voting no.

(Copyright © 2020 APG Media)

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