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The Mille Lacs Historic Courthouse was filled with approximately 50 people in a number of rooms on three levels to accommodate social distancing, Tuesday, July 21, as commissioners took time to weigh in on the possibility of Mille Lacs County becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary county.

Overwhelmingly, the residents who spoke were in support of the symbolic measure which has been drafted as a resolution by the county.

People filtered in and out of the boardroom to have their voices heard before the county board. Twenty-seven people spoke in favor of the resolution and one person spoke in opposition.

A Second Amendment Sanctuary refers to the counties, townships, cities, or other localities in Minnesota that have adopted resolutions or ordinances to impede the enforcement of unconstitutional gun control legislation.

Kanabec County, Crow Wing County and Wright County are neighboring counties that have enacted similar resolutions.

The Second Amendment Sanctuary Resolution introduction reads as follows: “The recent rise of the ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary’ movement is a dramatic trend in American local government. While the movement has some slight regional and local variations, the broad tools and objectives of the movement remain similar across the country: supporters of the movement advocate for their local governments – typically counties or municipalities – to adopt ordinances (sanctuary provisions) declaring that the local government is a ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary,’ which will not use any of its resources to enforce any federal or state law, policy or order that infringes citizens’ rights to bear arms.”

Josh Bretzman, organizer of the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement in the county, spoke before the board.

“The county attorney said we should be at the capitol with this, but I believe we need to start at the local level,” Bretzman said. “The resolution doesn’t say the law won’t be enforced but does say that resources won’t be allocated to enforce it. America is segregating, and rights are being lost.”

He added that the group needed to be respectful of those who oppose the movement saying, “We’re here to fight for the Second Amendment, so let’s not oppose someone for exercising their First Amendment.”

Mille Lacs County Resident and U.S. Army veteran Terry Miles stated that he is a gun owner but does not support the resolution. His specific concern was the use of military grade weaponry for the general population.

“The availability of military grade weaponry in the general population scares the hell out of me. I have handled military grade weaponry. I know what it does,” Miles said. “The ability of any one person to commit such an atrocious act of violence as we see every day with this weaponry has already caused massive terror throughout our country.”

Miles added that he considers the right to defend himself, his loved ones and his property an absolute but doesn’t feel the government has any desire to take guns away from people.

And in the event the government did come for people’s guns, Miles said the government would overpower anyone in possession of even military grade weapons.

“I have been using firearms for sporting since I was 12,” said Ron Westby. “I have seen rights eroded. I would suggest you take a step of faith and pass a motion … things are getting worse not better.”

Megan Oleary spoke about mental illness concerns. “I believe our hospitals and sheriff know enough about mental illness, and not everyone who commits a crime has a mental illness,” she said.

Nicole Hollenkamp spoke in support, stating, “I’m here as someone who was very afraid of guns, but my husband has always had guns around. After the riots in Minneapolis, my opinion has changed.”

Richard Farnig, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, also spoke in support. “Instead of worrying about our Second Amendment, why aren’t people worrying about how to teach parents how to parent?” he questioned. “We have bigger problems to worry about. People wake up. I’m in favor of guns, and what’s happening to our state is embarrassing. I’ve done everything our country has asked. And I’m here to defend my Second Amendment, and that’s insulting. I wish I didn’t have to do this.”

Katie Vivant spoke in support of the resolution, stating, “I use guns for sport and to feed my family. It has been proven that stricter gun laws don’t deter crime. It’s important that the county takes the steps and measures to protect the rights of the county residents. There is far more to a weapon than violence.”

Sheriff Don Lorge spoke after all those wished to speak were done, stating that he is very pro-gun and supports the symbolic measure.

“I have taken an oath of office to support the Constitution and will fight for it tooth and nail,” said Lorge. “There are a lot of things going on in the world that are quite horrible right now … I’m proud of the people on either side of the fence who spoke today. I get gun permits coming across my desk daily and wonder how every person in the county doesn’t have a carry permit. But there are a few of them that shouldn’t have guns, being either a danger to themselves or the public.”

Mille Lacs County Attorney Joe Walsh said during a July 15 work session that he has always considered it important to “stay in his lane,” adding that ultimately, only the courts will decide if something is Constitutional or not.

“As a county attorney, I don’t get to decide that, and I would never publicly state without a court ruling,” Walsh said. “The resolution is saying that the county board gets to decide, and that is not the case. It’s not the role of the county board because we don’t get to decide what is unconstitutional.”

Walsh added that it is possible that he and the county board could be on opposite sides with the county board having one opinion and him having to prosecute someone for violating the law.

He did add that the county attorney has discretion in charging someone as there are many factors they consider, one of them being whether something is Constitutional or not.

The county board will decide at a later date whether or not to pass the resolution.

T.A. LeBrun is the editor of the Mille Lacs Messenger and covers county government for the Union-Times. She can be reached at news@millelacsmessenger.com.

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