Wicomico Eyes Second Amendment Sanctuary Status

SALISBURY – An effort to declare Wicomico County a Second Amendment sanctuary county moved forward last week with an open work session to discuss a proposed resolution.

In a work session last week, the Wicomico County Council met with Sheriff Mike Lewis to discuss a proposed resolution declaring Wicomico a Second Amendment sanctuary county, or a county that prohibits or impedes the enforcement of gun control measures viewed as a violation of the Second Amendment.

“Let’s pass this Second Amendment resolution,” Lewis said. “Let’s let our constituents know that while we recognize such passage is largely ceremonial, largely symbolic, we also want to send a strong message to Annapolis, to the state of Maryland, and to our nation that we stand with our people, we stand with our communities and we stand firmly on the rule of law.”

Lewis told the council “legislative hurdles” make it difficult for law-abiding individuals to legally purchase and maintain firearms. As of Tuesday, more than 1,700 community members have signed an online petition calling for the council to declare Wicomico a Second Amendment sanctuary county and oppose gun control legislation.

“Stripping the citizens of their rights is something we simply can’t ignore,” the petition reads. “We hope you consider this petition with the same regard you should. We are the people, after all. And this is what we all want.”

The resolution presented to the council last week outlines county government limitations that protect the Second Amendment and states that “the Wicomico County Government will oppose unconstitutional restrictions by the Maryland General Assembly in the right to keep and bear arms through all available legal means.”

While he stated his support for the Second Amendment, Councilman Bill McCain said it was not within the county’s authority to determine the constitutionality of laws.

“There’s a process to challenge the constitutionality of laws,” he said. “I encourage anybody who has issues with gun laws, they should be at the state house in Annapolis when laws they think are unreasonable are being proposed … If a law is passed you don’t think is constitutional, there is a process. That’s what the courts of the land are for. The courts determine the constitutionality of laws, not the Wicomico County Council.”

Lewis, however, argued the resolution would send a message to constituents that local elected leaders supported and protected their Second Amendment rights.

“I recognize we don’t determine what is constitutionally sound or not. We have to abide by the law and we have to obey the law,” he said. “But I also made it very clear what we are trying to do here today in passing this Second Amendment sanctuary resolution is making it clear to our constituents that we recognize this to be ceremonial and we recognize it to be largely symbolic, but we also recognize their voices in Annapolis.”

Councilman Josh Hastings, however, said the resolution would do very little.

“This is a nice effort,” he said. “I’m a proud gun owner myself, proudly support the Second Amendment. But realistically this is not something that’s actually going to do anything. If anything, we need to encourage folks to, like Mr. McCain said, go to Annapolis. If someone suspects a law is unconstitutional, we have a process for that. You go, and you challenge that law.”

Councilman John Cannon, Councilman Joe Holloway and Councilwoman Nicole Acle, said they supported the council adopting some form of Second Amendment sanctuary resolution.

“You have to ask why are you continuing to make it more difficult to allow people to defend themselves. I think that’s the reason this is on our table today,” Cannon said. “We are concerned about our local autonomy, concerned about over-regulation on the part of the state, and at some point in time you have to send a clear message.”

Hastings, however, suggested the entire council would likely support the resolution if it had major revisions.

“There’s a lot more that we can say, and say it much clearer, than what is very poorly written in this document here,” he said.

Council Administrator Laura Hurley said County Attorney Paul Wilber worked with Lewis in drafting the resolution. Members of the council suggested Wilber and Council Attorney Robert Taylor work together to amend the language in the resolution.

Taylor agreed the resolution needed “more than just tweaking.” He said a provision of the resolution opposing unconstitutional restrictions through all available legal means was more than symbolic.

“It means a lot because it says you will do something …,” he said. “It essentially says the council is going to act as a court and will determine which laws are unconstitutional and which aren’t before there’s any adjudication, which frankly I think is a foolish thing to do and is not within the legislative powers of the council in the charter.”

Last week, a coalition of seven organizations – including the Lower Shore Progressive Caucus, Wicomico County NAACP, Wicomico PUSH4Education, Wicomico Truth and Reconciliation Initiative, the City of Salisbury Lynching Memorial Task Force, Salisbury Junior Chamber of Commerce and Moms Demand Action – issued a statement calling on the Wicomico County Council to delay voting on a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution.

The coalition argued the resolution does not take into account racial disparities in how minorities are treated in gun ownership and uses language “that is currently anti-democracy and contrary to Rule of Law.” The group added that Wicomico County gun owners from all backgrounds should be included in the discussion.

“Any legislation moving forward on this issue should be an inclusive conversation to ensure that everyone can safely purchase, own and learn how to use firearms,” a statement reads.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.