The Crow Wing County Board unanimously passed a resolution in June declaring its dedication to the Second Amendment — but it wasn’t the resolution two county commissioners and activists in support of the measure wanted.

The vote was the culmination of a months-long citizen-led effort organized in response to gun control legislation those opposed to believe is too restrictive or outright unconstitutional. In Minnesota, the target was two bills passed by the state House of Representatives — one expanding background checks to online sales and gun shows, and “red flag” legislation that would allow law enforcement officers to temporarily remove a person’s firearms if a judge determined they were a threat to themselves or others. Those measures ultimately did not pass in the Republican-controlled state Senate.

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At least nine Minnesota counties passed Second Amendment-related resolutions, including nearby Wadena and Todd counties, according to a map maintained by the nonprofit advocacy group Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. Passage of these resolutions, often described as establishing Second Amendment sanctuaries, indicate county leaders might challenge or refuse to enforce gun control laws, including the potential expenditure of public funds in the process.

A March 10 county board meeting was packed with about 200 people who showed up on the issue. It featured passionate testimony from dozens, mostly in favor of the resolution, during the open forum. The showing turned out to be the last time in 2020 when anywhere near that number of meeting attendees were in the same room — a day after that outpouring, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, sparking a cascade of event cancellations and dramatic changes to everyday life.

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Megan Pence, along with her son Caleb and daughter Isabel, talks to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, March 10, 2020, during the open forum segment of the board meeting. Several people gathered at the meeting to ask Crow Wing County commissioners to designate the county "Second Amendment dedicated." Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Megan Pence, along with her son Caleb and daughter Isabel, talks to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, March 10, 2020, during the open forum segment of the board meeting. Several people gathered at the meeting to ask Crow Wing County commissioners to designate the county "Second Amendment dedicated." Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The movement also inspired those opposed to the resolution to weigh in, with some challenging commissioners to explain why the board would show support for just one amendment of the Constitution and not others.

The amended version of the resolution ultimately gaining county board support was penned by County Attorney Don Ryan and did not include a section stating the county would use any means at its disposal — including legal action, appropriating public funds and directing law enforcement and county employees — to avoid enforcing laws it deems unconstitutional.

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Ryan told the board the amended version of the resolution reflected the position of the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association, which argued resolutions declaring counties would oppose state law or policies were unconstitutional themselves. Ryan modified the original resolution at the request of county officials, he said, to remove the potentially problematic language.

While the measure was approved with a 5-0 vote, it was only begrudgingly supported by commissioners Paul Koering and Rosemary Franzen, who threw their full backing behind the original measure championed by activists. While acknowledging county boards play no direct role in gun control legislation, Koering argued it was incumbent upon commissioners to send a message to legislators in St. Paul about where their residents stand.

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All commissioners described strong support for the Second Amendment, but other board members argued the oath of office they’d already agreed to meant they would uphold the U.S. Constitution and a separate resolution was unnecessary and divisive. It could also lead to legal and financial jeopardy for the county, they argued, since insurance coverage in the event of a lawsuit related to the resolution appeared to be in doubt.

The effort for passage of a resolution put one of its most visible faces in the spotlight, ultimately inspiring an election challenge to a sitting incumbent. Michael Starry of Ironton, who was an administrator of a now-disbanded Facebook group called “Patriots for Crow Wing 2nd Amendment Dedicated (Sanctuary) County,” sought to unseat Commissioner Doug Houge in District 5 during the 2020 election. Starry’s run was ultimately unsuccessful and Houge retained his spot at the county board table for another four years.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.