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Proposal to make Kootenai County a ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary’ falls flat

A proposed law to make Kootenai County a “Second Amendment Sanctuary” gained no traction among county lawmakers earlier this week, with one commissioner dismissing the effort as a right-wing political stunt.

Commissioner Leslie Duncan sponsored the legislation, which called for a County Code amendment to recognize any federal or state law or regulation that “clearly infringes upon an individual’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms” as invalid in Kootenai County. Listed examples included confiscation and the registration of firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition.

The proposal came just days after the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills last week to require background checks on all firearms sales and transfers, and to allow an expanded 10-day review for gun purchases.

Duncan pushed the proposal during Monday’s meeting of the three-member Board of County Commissioners, saying she drew it up after receiving constituent emails heralding similar efforts nationwide, including several other cities in Idaho.

“After reading the ordinance, I believed it was a great way for the Board of County Commissioners to stand with and behind our Sheriff who is dedicated (as am I) to defending the rights of Kootenai County citizens,” Duncan said in an emailed statement Thursday. “Monday was only meant to bring it forward to discuss the possibility and consider changing any language which was found disagreeable.”

Whereas other municipalities have passed resolutions declaring sanctuary, Duncan’s proposal of an ordinance – which is generally a more permanent legislative change – gave pause to her fellow commissioners and other Kootenai County officials.

Pat Braden, civil deputy prosecuting attorney at Kootenai County, said Monday he was concerned the ordinance could infringe on Sheriff Robert Norris and Prosecuting Attorney Barry McHugh’s abilities to exercise their discretion with law enforcement, which would go against state law. Braden suggested a policy statement as an alternative.

Norris, meanwhile, said Monday he’s committed to prohibiting gun confiscation in Kootenai County regardless of the board’s decision. Norris could not be reached for comment Thursday; a Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office spokesman reiterated the sheriff’s stance that Norris will not enforce any laws that violate the Second Amendment.

“You know, I’d prefer to be a Second Amendment Sanctuary county without the attention of the federal government, but if they want to give us attention, I’m ready for the attention also,” Norris said Monday. “So to me, if you’re asking my opinion, I’d prefer that you worked on other items that are more pressing to the residents of Kootenai County.”

Commissioners Chris Fillios and Bill Brooks declined to offer a second on Duncan’s proposal Monday. Without at least one commissioner’s support, Duncan acknowledged the bill was “effectively dead.”

Brooks said he believes establishing sanctuary status through an ordinance could put the county into conflict with federal law. Saying he’s unsure what the county could gain from the ordinance other than “just trying to stick our thumb in the eye of the feds,” Brooks described Duncan’s proposal as “cheap political theater.”

“I believe it was a stunt specifically designed to garner support from the radical right wing in Kootenai County,” he said, “and I don’t believe a commissioner should submit to that right-wing theater.”

Responding to that, Duncan said Brooks “is entitled to his own opinions, but not his own facts.”

Fillios, meanwhile, said he would be worried the ordinance could set up a refuge for all to bear arms, citing rising gang violence in the Spokane area among his concerns. Duncan called the argument “completely absurd,” however; the ordinance, she said, has a provision that exempts felons from any protections, while other language states the law is not meant to prohibit the prosecution of crimes involving firearms.

Beyond that, Fillios said the ordinance just “does not make any sense.”

“It’s a symbolic gesture,” Fillios said, “that has no standing, no merit, no teeth.”

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