Crow Wing County residents will soon have the opportunity to officially weigh in on a proposed resolution to designate the county as “Second Amendment dedicated.”

The county board Tuesday, May 12, unanimously approved a motion establishing a 30-day public comment period on the issue beginning Monday. The motion, forwarded by Commissioner Steve Barrows and seconded by Commissioner Doug Houge, established a 200-word limit per person and required those commenting to include their name and city they live in.

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“That way we will be able to gather information for all of us to look at that is consistent for each one of us to determine what our position may be or may not be on that particular issue,” Barrows said. “I think it’s gathering some good information that everybody can see so there is a public document that the public has to review why we got to the decision we did.”

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The resolution arose from a grassroots Second Amendment movement in the county — among dozens across the state and hundreds nationwide — organized in response to gun control legislation that those opposed to view as too restrictive or outright unconstitutional. In Minnesota, the target is 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 are not expected to pass in a Republican-controlled state Senate.

Nine Minnesota counties have passed these resolutions sometimes billed as sanctuary 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 indicate county leaders might challenge or refuse to enforce these kinds of laws, including the potential expenditure of public funds in the process.

A March 10 Crow Wing 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. A day after that outpouring, on March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic, sparking a cascade of event cancellations and dramatic changes to everyday life. Among those cancellations was a March 19 public hearing on the Second Amendment resolution.

Chairman Paul Koering, the commissioner who’s primarily led the charge on the resolution, said while he had no issue with a public comment period, he noted the board is elected to make these decisions on behalf of county residents.

“It seems like lately we do a lot of public comment. This is just my thoughts, we do a lot of public comment and it almost seems like, hmm, gee, I wonder which way the wind is blowing,” Koering said. “I don’t think that’s why people have elected me, to see which way the wind is blowing.

… If that’s the reason we’re using this tool I kind of question that, because ultimately with or without public comment we are supposed to make the decisions here.”

County Administrator Tim Houle offered examples of situations in which public hearings are required by law — which he described as “peppered throughout statutes.” Commissioner Rosemary Franzen listed all of the reasons and added the Second Amendment resolution does not require one.

Commissioner Bill Brekken noted at the March 10 open forum, the board set the original public hearing that was later canceled.

“Obviously since we’ve had the COVID-19, we haven’t been able to have that,” Brekken said. “So at least this is another way to be able to get public comment out there so we’re trying to be fair to both sides of that issue.”

Koering acknowledged he’d set the public hearing, after which he’d hoped the county board would vote on the issue. The matter was originally on the April 14 county board agenda to go up for a vote without a public hearing, but Koering reversed course that day and pulled it after Barrows, Brekken and Houge told the Dispatch they’d prefer a public comment period.

“I think this is probably a good idea,” Koering said Tuesday. “For the most part, we probably heard from people in favor of it. There wasn’t a lot of people that had their opposing views to it. So this is probably a good idea.”

Submitting comment

A 30-day public comment period on a proposed resolution that would designate Crow Wing County as “Second Amendment-dedicated begins Monday, May 18.

Comments will be limited to 200 words and each person is required to give their name and the city or township in which they reside. A form will be available at crowwing.us when the comment period begins.

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