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Kootenai County commissioners decline to vote on gun ordinance

Wed., Dec. 18, 2013, midnight

Kootenai County commissioners opted against voting Tuesday on a proposed ordinance declaring all federal gun laws invalid and directing the sheriff to prevent enforcement of such laws.

“Ultimately it’s not enforceable,” county Prosecutor Barry McHugh said of the proposal from the Kootenai County Republican Central Committee.

The federal courts have the authority to determine if federal laws are constitutional, McHugh told the commissioners. He also said the board of commissioners has no statutory authority to direct the sheriff to enforce or not enforce any laws.

Sheriff Ben Wolfinger echoed that view. “It’s not our job to pass the laws, it’s not our job to interpret the laws. It’s just our job to enforce the laws,” Wolfinger said.

The three Republican commissioners said they support the right to bear arms but indicated they did not think the proposed ordinance was workable.

Commissioner Jai Nelson said she supports the spirit of the proposal. “I certainly don’t want to infringe on people’s right to bear arms, and as a gun owner myself, I feel very strongly about the Second Amendment.” Nelson added, “I’m concerned about some of the legalities that have been brought up by both the sheriff and the prosecutor.”

The commissioners tabled the discussion and suggested the central committee take another stab at crafting a proposal – such as a resolution supporting gun rights – that does not overstep commissioners’ legal authority.

“I would support bringing back something that would clearly state our desire or intent that we want to protect our Second Amendment rights – through a resolution, maybe, instead of an ordinance – that says we hold those very highly,” said Commissioner Todd Tondee.

McHugh, a member of the Republican central committee, offered to work with the group to help craft a new proposal.

Committee Chairman Neil Oliver said he would take commissioners’ comments back to the central committee, which had put forward the proposal based on the platform of the Idaho Republican Party.

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