By: Ashleigh Meyer
As gun control continues to be a focus of the 2020 legislative session across the nation, Pennsylvania gun rights activists are working hard to get ahead of the melee.
The Pennsylvania chapter of Gun Owners of America (GOA) is championing a powerful grassroots movement that not only mobilizes gun owners to vote, but also offers municipalities and counties an effective, legally airtight ordinance that would protect Second Amendment freedoms at the local level.
How It’s Done
Organization has been key to the movement’s success. A designated Second Amendment Sanctuary Ordinance (SASO) Coordinator in every county begins garnering support on social media. Pennsylvanians can go to Facebook and locate the SASO Facebook page made exclusively for their locality. There, they will find contact information and a link to an online petition. They can also find information about where paper petitions can be signed. Once a sufficient number of signatures have been obtained, the local Coordinator presents the Ordinance to their county commissioners or municipal government .
If passed, the Ordinance protects the rights of gun-owning citizens from “Unlawful Acts” of government and/or law enforcement. These acts might include firearms confiscation, mandatory registration and tracking of firearms, ownership restrictions, and restrictions on accessories and magazines, etc.
So far, Buffalo Township (Union County) and West Manheim Township (York County) have passed GOA’s ordinance. Fayette County is going to vote on the ordinance later in March. Bradford, Sullivan, Huntingdon, Cambria, and Bedford Counties have passed Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions as have other municipalities across the state.
Importantly, there are key differences between a resolution and an actual ordinance like the one available through GOA, and it comes down to enforceability.
“Resolutions simply declare intent to support the Second Amendment,” says Dr. Val Finnell, the Pennsylvania Director of Gun Owners of America. “The Ordinance is a legal measure that protects against unlawful acts of government. Unlike a resolution, there are penalties for any local official who violates the Ordinance.”
Dr. Finnell has had the model ordinance reviewed by a Pennsylvania gun rights attorney, and the measure is considered to be legally sound. There are opponents to the sanctuary movement, however, even from other, pro-gun organizations.
Gun Rights Group Objects
Firearms Owners Against Crime (FOAC), a gun rights organization, is not standing behind Gun Owners of America in their efforts to pass sanctuary ordinances.
“I personally believe these (ordinances) are misguided,” says FOAC President Kim Stolfer, who feels that the authority to enact gun legislation should remain exclusively with the state legislature. His claim is that any locality that passes their own gun legislation would be in violation of state preemption laws, which prevent local governments from contradicting state law.
The Pennsylvania Code states that “no county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of the Commonwealth.”
But GOA’s Ordinance addresses preemption laws specifically.
“Preemption is addressed right in the Ordinance,” says Dr. Finnell. “The Ordinance does not propose new legislation or attempt to regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation of firearms. It simply declares that participating localities will not enforce new and unlawful gun control laws.”
At least thirty anti-gun bills have been filed in the 2020 Pennsylvania legislative session. In his recent budget address, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf dedicated a quarter of the presentation to his Bloomberg-approved gun control plan. Speaking directly to gun owners, Wolf delivered an emotion-fueled plea for the people to embrace gun control.
“All I ask of you is this: Imagine that it’s your municipal building, it’s your synagogue, it’s your neighborhood pool that suddenly becomes the symbol of this crisis,” Wolf said. “Imagine that it’s your child who doesn’t come home from a party, from a concert, or from school. Can you honestly say that you don’t believe there’s any way to protect both your family and the Constitution?”
Wolf went on to urge lawmakers to act on imposing red flag laws and universal background checks, lock-up laws, and penalties for victims of firearms theft.
Wolf, much like his ally, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia, won’t pass those measures without a fight. After a successful Second Amendment lobby day on the Virginia Capitol steps, Northam’s beloved, so-called “assault-weapons” ban bill died on the table, and other measures have been watered-down by cautious legislators who apparently hope to keep their political careers. While anti-gun measures are passing in Virginia, the powers-that-be are keenly aware of the push-back from their own constituents, thanks to the sanctuary movement.
“The long-term value here is that the movement is reinvigorating gun owners to protect their Second Amendment rights. They are plugged in and ready to be mobilized,” says Dr. Finnell. “The message is that they must vote. They must contact their legislators. If all else fails, we have this sanctuary ordinance in place.”
Ashleigh Meyer is a professional writer, and conservative political analyst from Virginia.