The explosion of American jurisdictions declaring themselves as firearm or “2nd Amendment” sanctuaries has dramatically accelerated in recent months. The rapid rise of localities announcing a wide array of versions was popularized from its modern beginnings in Iroquois and Effingham Counties in Illinois. It is reaching a critical mass in Virginia, and has spread to approximately 20 states. Like most true grassroots political movements, gun sanctuaries leave establishment politicos, media, and academia befuddled and grasping for answers when their paradigm is broken. They are no longer controlling the narrative. Despite this – or because of it – confusion, misinformation, posturing, and blame abound. What are these “sanctuaries?” What aren’t they? What NEXT?
There is general agreement that the United States is politically and culturally fragmented, and increasingly polarized. Many people, places, and things have more in common with other nations than they do with those from a neighboring state, or even a different region of their own commonwealth. This was present at our founding, and foreseen by those who designed our system of governance. As a republic – guaranteed under Article IV Section 4 of the United States Constitution – differences such as these should be manageable. Increasingly, they are not, and are in fact quite divisive. Throughout history, troubled nations cycle through a five step devolution on the road to disintegration:
2. Civil Disobedience
3. Civil Disorder
4. Open Rebellion
How are we doing? Outrage is always present in one faction or another. Civil disobedience is fairly common throughout American history, often for the better. Civil disorder is also a not so uncommon occurrence on our shores. Open, armed, rebellion has happened many times, with “The Battle of Athens, Tennessee” taking place in 1946 and witnessed by many still living today. Revolution happens somewhere in the world at a dizzying rate. Again: where are we in that five step continuum?
That brings us to 2nd Amendment sanctuaries. First, what AREN’T they? Clearly, in nearly every instance, they are most certainly not duly enacted law. They are often not even binding as policy, though some localities have stipulated that neither resources nor personnel be allowed to participate in certain activities. They are not judicial decrees issued in a court of law either. So, if they are not fully legislative, and not judicial, are they some executive branch function? No, not really, since they typically fall to county boards, commissions, townships, or city councils that rarely involve more than civil ordinances. Are they think-tank, NRA conceived, backdoor, “gun lobby” desperation? No, the increasingly dysfunctional NRA and other major groups only recently acknowledged the existence and viability of the movement. In fact, at the four Illinois county board meetings I presented to, there was zero overt evidence of any gun group’s organization present. I paid for copies and handouts from my own pocket, as well as the gas to drive to and from. This is the norm throughout the hundreds of American counties and cities who have enacted resolutions. Yet, tens of thousands of everyday people are appearing at local government meetings on their own time and own dime. They are unfunded, unorganized, unsanctioned, often publicly unrecognized events scoffed at by the political elite, media, academia (and organized gun lobby) but daring to oppose lavishly funded, highly organized, officially recognized professional political lobbying consortiums. All that being the case, what ARE these sanctuaries?
Primarily, a gun sanctuary resolution is a peaceful redress of grievances by the political entity closest to the citizens. They typically announce the specific legislation they believe is unconstitutional, bad public policy, and forward official notice of approved measures to state legislative bodies and their respective governors. Some are specific in their claims as a sanctuary, others merely reaffirm the oaths of office. The more thorough proposals include perceived violations of state Constitutions as well as that of the United States. Some go to further measures. A sanctuary ballot referendum offers registered voters the opportunity to give an exact accounting of their position to their elected representatives. What do registered voters also represent? Jury pools. That message is abundantly clear: fellow citizens arrested or put on trial for unjust laws will likely have their charges summarily dismissed. A referendum or resolution serves as a loud voice that the citizens of those areas view state or federal government intrusion into their fundamental freedoms to be tyrannical, subject to condemnation, and a violation of truths once held to be self evident. The documented, passionate, beautiful presentations by private citizens of many races, religions, and walks of life – directly to their local political representatives – is undeniable proof of the movement’s true grassroots nature. For the majority of those publicly expressing their outrage, it is their first time doing so. It is indigenous, spontaneous, fast moving, personal political activism. That is powerful. It is the recognition and remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who wisely pointed out in his ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’:
“One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.
Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”
A growing percentage of the American populace is remembering its birthright, that the fundamental essence of self defense predates governments, nations, and even religions. As American citizens, they are reawakening to the forgotten clause of the 2nd Amendment itself: “…being NECESSARY to the security of a free state….” (emphasis added), and supported throughout the historical writings of the founding fathers. “Necessary.” Not merely advisable, convenient, or if one has the time to fit it in a busy schedule. It would be repugnant to beg permission from the very entity likely to terrorize one’s freedom from the relative distance and safety of near feudal city-states lording over their serfs. The right of the People to keep and bear arms has been – and remains – a fundamental, unalienable, constitutional, civil, and natural right which is necessary for personal and national security. Claiming otherwise is disingenuous, inaccurate, and undeniably false.
Lastly, what’s next? After the vast swaths of geographical landmass with relatively modest populations pass this protest language into existence, then what? Go home? Back to one’s everyday life, accept that “elections have consequences” and to vote harder in the next election? Hardly! Gun sanctuary resolutions are proving to be a springboard to broader civil disobedience. Immediate steps of nullification by way of police discretion, prosecutorial dismissal, jury nullification, and judicial verdicts are already being seen. The resolutions are the warm tropical waters that enable massive hurricanes to spawn. Even many highly intelligent libertarian and conservative thinkers have missed that fact. It is the genesis of a potentially enormous being. The sharp, tumultuous divide between urban leftists and rural/ small town citizens who value their rights will continue to be manifested in widespread civil disobedience and non-compliance. In every locale that extreme anti-rights measures are implemented or threatened, private citizens of all political persuasions are responding. They are increasingly proactive, taking the initiative in restoring their civil rights, and in recognizing that the further away from the guiding principles of a free republic they are dragged – the more chaos, dysfunction, and government overreach is occurring. The provably most law abiding and measured demographic of the nation is being blamed for the criminal actions of the least law abiding. Bought and paid for political elites’ insistence of forcing their political will over others has spurred growing calls for legal and professional repercussions to would-be tyrants who refuse to believe what is about to happen. It is unlikely to stop any time soon.
In short, the rattles of the snake on the Gadsden Flag are warning: “Don’t Tread On Me.”
Jeff “JJ” Wittenborn is a retired Illinois State Police Sergeant. His time with the ISP included assignments in rural & inner city patrol, investigations, and SWAT. His SWAT duties included (in part) teaching assignments for tactical pistol, shotgun, sub machine gun, patrol rifle (+AR-15 & M16 armorer), and precision rifle. Additional teaching assignments included Close Quarters Battle, Sniper Operations, Response to Active Shooters, and as team commander for the most active SWAT unit in Illinois. He is a long time 2nd Amendment/ concealed carry activist, engaged in proposing gun sanctuary initiatives, as well as initiating the prosecutorial nullification movement in Illinois and nationwide.