ROSEAU, Minn. — Roseau County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday, Feb. 11, designating the county a “Second Amendment Dedicated County,” more commonly known as a Second Amendment “sanctuary county.” They join more than 400 sanctuary communities nationwide to adopt such resolutions and are the first county in Minnesota to do so.
The resolution, passed unanimously to applause from the dozen residents in attendance, reads that the board “wishes to express opposition to any law in the future, beyond existing laws to date, that would unconstitutionally restrict the rights of the citizens of Roseau County to keep and bear arms.”
The motion goes on to resolve that “public funds of the county not be used to restrict the Second Amendment rights of the citizens of Roseau County, or to aid federal or state agencies in the restriction of said rights.”
Roseau County Sheriff Steve Gust said the resolution won’t change local law enforcement’s operations, since one of the resolution’s main intents is to oppose “red flag” gun laws, which allow courts to temporarily remove guns from people who are found to be a risk to themselves or others. Red flag laws have been proposed in Minnesota but not passed.
A template resolution, circulated by members of the New House Republican Caucus over the past few months as they encourage grassroots organization in support of the Second Amendment, specified that a sanctuary designation means that counties can refuse to send law enforcement officers or other county employees to enforce “unconstitutional” laws.
That language did not make it into the Roseau County resolution. Gust said ultimately the commissioners can’t tell law enforcement which laws they can and can’t enforce.
“My position is that red flag laws are not necessary, because you’ve already got the due process in place,” Gust said. “But we’re obviously going to enforce laws that are on the books.”
With proposed red flag laws making their way through the state Legislature, however, County Commissioner Russell Walker said the resolution was about making a statement.
“Sometimes you have to make a stand on some things that people might think is radical, but you got to get people’s attention so they all band together and support what you’re doing,” Walker said. “I think this is a thing that the gun owners in Minnesota need to get on board, because there are a bunch of radical folks down in the metro area that are on the other side of the issue, and they’re ready to infringe on my constitutional rights and the rights of everybody else in the state.”
But there is doubt about whether such resolutions hold up legally. Roseau County Attorney Kristy Kjos declined to support the resolution without a formal legal opinion from the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.
That association will meet on Feb. 21. Kjos said they are expected to formulate an opinion about the Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions then.
Kjos said she has been in her position with the county for about a year. In that time, she said the board hasn’t passed any other motions without her legal advice.
But Walker said he and Commissioner John Horner, who also spearheaded the passage of the resolution, were weary of what they perceive as a disconnect between the urban attorneys who make up the state board’s leadership and rural Minnesota gun owners.
“(Kjos) thought we should get advice from them first, and myself and John Horner made a very strong stand against that and said, basically, ‘we’re leaders, not followers, and we’re not going to let the metro decide what we’re going to do in Roseau County,” Walker said. “We were elected to represent Roseau County, not (Hennepin County Attorney Michael) Freeman or any of these other guys who are Hennepin County attorneys or Ramsey County attorneys. As far as I’m concerned, they’re with the opposition and I will not listen or have anything to do with them, period.”
Rep. Jeremy Munson, R-Crystal Lake, is a member of the New House Republicans Caucus. He posted a petition to his site in December encouraging local activists to reach out to their county commissioners and sheriffs. The petition included contact information for county-level decision-makers as well as the template resolution, which he said he adopted from language used by a Virginia lawmaker.
He said his goal in posting the petition was to encourage Second Amendment activists to organize at the grassroots level.
“Citizen activists are the best lobbyists,” he said. “People want to enact change, they just want instructions on how to do it.”
That’s what happened when Roseau resident James Whitlow approached the commission on Jan. 7 to ask the board to consider a sanctuary county resolution. A committee consisting of Walker, Horner, Gust, Whitlow and Kjos was formed at that meeting to draft the resolution. The resolution was drafted in a working session before it was passed by the full board, Walker said.
Munson said he has heard from residents in about a dozen counties besides Roseau who have expressed interest in adopting sanctuary designations. Clearwater County is expected to vote on a similar sanctuary county resolution on Friday.
Multiple people said it’s difficult to know how likely it is that the resolution will eventually be challenged in court, but the resolution makes clear the board’s intent to use legal resources to uphold it if necessary.
“I’m very proud of Roseau County for doing it,” Walker said. “I guess that’s about all I can say right now.”