Benewah County commissioners Monday shot down a proposed law requiring a gun and ammunition in every home.
“Based on the facts we had on hand, we really didn’t have the authority to do it,” said commissioner George Mills Jr.
The unanimous decision neither surprised nor upset the group of St. Maries constitutionalists who proposed the ordinance. They plan to ask commissioners to consider a watered-down declaration affirming that county residents are “allowed” to own weapons.
“We recognize that the commissioners are political animals and we said at the beginning wording was not critical,” said Ken Rouw, chairman of the Tenth Amendment Coalition. “We knew ‘requiring’ would get the issue on the table.”
The coalition in late November gave commissioners 1,000 signatures in support of requiring gun ownership, saying it would protect county residents from federal weapons restrictions. The measure would have exempted anyone who is disabled, a felon or has religious objections to owning a gun.
Rouw admitted the proposal was “an educational tool, a means of getting local and regional press to look at the issue.” But it was not made in jest.
“It was no mistake,” he said. “We wanted a requirement that heads of household own guns.”
Earlier this month, the Benewah County attorney said such a law would be unenforceable and unconstitutional.
Commissioner Jack Buell, who was reluctant to pass the ordinance anyway, said that opinion confirmed his decision.
The Tenth Amendment group said it would be satisfied with a resolution upholding county residents’ right to own guns.
“My idea is that we all, at one time or another, need a gun for one reason or another,” said coalition spokesman Mike Thatcher. “I bought mine for moose hunting.”
Thatcher said he believes the Second Amendment merely forbids the federal government from outlawing guns. It doesn’t create a law to allow gun ownership.
But that distinction may be lost on commissioners.
“So what’s the point?” Buell asked. “We have that right now. There has to be a point to a resolution and I don’t feel there is one now.”
Rouw said a resolution might give the county authority to not enforce future federal gun restrictions.
Buell said it could also backfire.
“There are a lot of communities that don’t like guns,” he said. They could propose resolutions asking residents not to own guns.
Commissioners may consider a revised proposal, but Buell is skeptical.
“I understand where they’re coming from,” Buell said. “But we’ve got to come out of this thing not looking foolish.”
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