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2nd Amendment Sanctuary Counties

What do they mean for the relationship between local and federal governments?

By guest author Trevor Mauk
February 1, 2022

A recently implemented Second Amendment ordinance in an Illinois County is a part of a relatively new and growing trend that calls the local vs. federal power dynamic into question.

Vermilion County, Illinois is one of the latest counties in Illinois to declare itself a Second Amendment sanctuary. The “Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance” ratified by the Vermilion County Board on January 11, 2022 states that any federal law pertaining to the Second Amendment deemed unconstitutional by the elected sheriff will not be enforced, and any federal agents who enforce those laws in Vermilion County will be subjected to penalties.

Examples of unconstitutional Second Amendment laws included in the document were, but not limited to, confiscations, registries, and uncommon taxes on guns, gun accessories, and ammunition.

The effort to push the ordinance was spearheaded by the Vermilion County Constitutionalists. The county board passed the ordinance in a nineteen to four vote, with four board members absent.

Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances have been gaining traction over the past few years, especially in Oregon and Illinois.

So, to what extent do these ordinances hold any authority? The answer to this question certainly lies in a gray area. From the perspective of the federal government, these ordinances hardly hold any weight. However, from the perspective of a rural county, such as Vermilion County and the many other counties in Illinois who have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, the ordinance is quite impactful. Sheriffs are given the explicit permission by their constituents to look the other way on gun control laws.

Such a conflict between county governments and the federal government makes a case in the Supreme Court seem inevitable.

But until a clear decision by the courts is made (if one ever comes), this ordinance serves as a good example of why local governments are better at governing than higher governments.

It is no question that states with majority Democrat-run cities have the strictest gun laws. Briefly setting aside Second Amendment issues, if the population of a state wishes to elect officials who will enact these types of gun restrictions, then it is well within their right to do that. A state like Illinois, however, is much more complex. 

The Chicago area only makes up a fraction of the land in the state of Illinois, yet it comprises 65% of the total population of Illinois. Judging by the presidential election of 2020, we can see that Chicago is a stronghold for Democrats. Interestingly, the large majority of the rest of the geographic state voted Republican.

As Democrats typically favor stricter gun laws and Republicans favor more lax gun laws, it is safe to assume that the rest of Illinois does not favor what its small Northeast pocket does pertaining to gun laws and many other issues. Nonetheless, the state is still steered by Chicago.

It is thus no wonder why Vermilion County has become the 68th county to enact the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance.

Based on the population density of Illinois, Chicago is the only densely populated urban city and the rest of the state is made up of more rural, or at most suburban, towns and areas. 

This means that the way of life for rural and suburban residents of Illinois is much different than their Chicagoan brothers and sisters. The way they value community, work, politics, and much more is different. So, why should Chicago determine the laws of the land for the rest of the state?

Second Amendment Preservation Ordinances are indicative of a larger and growing desire in the United States—and that is the desire for local governments to hold more weight than state and federal government.

Local governments know how to run their own localities better than any other governing bodies, and state governments and the federal government should get out of the way in order to let them do so.

Of course state governments and the federal government have unique powers that enable them to accomplish things that local governments cannot. But, we should not rush to give those higher forms of government the final say.

As the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance demonstrates, matters within the scope of local government should be left in the hands of local government without the worry of state or federal interference.

Trevor Mauk is a history graduate from the University of California, Berkeley. His research delves into American history, Constitutionalism, and religious freedom issues.