Uintah County becomes a ‘sanctuary county’ — for guns

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The Book Cliffs near State Road 45 on Friday, March 9, 2012. The Uintah County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to become Utah’s first “sanctuary county” for the Second Amendment.

The Uintah County Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to become Utah’s first “sanctuary county” for the Second Amendment — meaning that the government won’t recognize or enforce some federal or state regulations that restrict a person’s right to keep and bear firearms.

The ordinance spells out a number of provisions the northeastern Utah community would deem an “unlawful act,” including any tax, levy, fee or stamp imposed on a gun or gun accessories not applied to other goods; the registration or tracking of firearms and ammunition not associated with the point of sale; and any restrictions limiting magazine or clip capacity, bump stocks, suppressors and more.

“We’re not trying to pick a fight with the state of Utah; we’re not trying to pick a fight with a different federal administration,” Jonathan Stearmer, the principal deputy Uintah County attorney, explained during the special commission meeting. “We’re saying the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly ruled the way it has ruled, and we are not going to use county resources to support unconstitutional laws.”

The idea is modeled after the “sanctuary cities” created for immigrants in more liberal parts of the United States that limit in some way a community’s local police cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) actions.

Uintah County was inspired to adopt that model for the Second Amendment after more than 120 towns, cities and counties in Virginia passed similar resolutions when their Democratic state Legislature introduced a slate of gun control measures they found abhorrent, according to The Trace, a nonprofit news organization that covers gun violence.

Such local resolutions have now been approved in more than 400 municipalities in 20 states.

For members of Uintah County’s three-member commission, the sanctuary county provision is seen as a precautionary measure — in case the tides in red Utah turn blue or a future president or Congress enacts gun control measures they perceive as violating the Constitution.

Commissioner Bill Stringer said he was “a little sad” to pass the ordinance but added that he thought it was “necessary.”

“I don’t want to be in the position of Virginia where those counties are passing this as a defense against an action that has been taken,” he said. “I also see this as more or less a vote of no confidence in some of our federal and state legislators that we need to do this in a preventive way so that we’re not reacting to something that we never thought would happen.”

All the residents who spoke at the meeting Wednesday expressed support for the measure, including Uintah County Sheriff Steve Labrum, who thanked the County Commission for its leadership on the issue.

“I appreciate the fore-thinking of our commissioners and the ability to pass this so unanimously and the support we have from our community,” he said. “We’re a group that we’re going to protect ourselves. We like to hunt. We like this God-given right that our forefathers have given us, and we don’t want to have to catch up like Virginia.”

Uintah County’s ordinance, which cites court cases and quotes the Second Amendment, prevents any Uintah County official or employee from participating in the enforcement of an “unlawful act” and prohibits the use of any funds it has allocated to help with enforcement or investigation of such in connection with gun control measures.

Violating those provisions is considered a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.

The new regulations are not intended to affect the prosecution of any crime in which a firearm was a factor and the protections do not apply to those who have been convicted of felony crimes or who are prohibited from possessing a firearm under federal and state law, the ordinance states.

Passage of the sanctuary county ordinance comes at a time when gun rights have become a flashpoint across the country amid mounting public pressure nationwide and locally for gun reform efforts after a spate of mass shootings. It stands in stark contrast to the recent actions of Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, who approved a policy earlier this month requiring gun shows in county-owned facilities to conduct federal background checks on anyone attempting to buy a firearm.

Utah lawmakers are expected to run a number of firearms bills in this year’s state legislative session, which began Monday. Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, has already proposed a bill that would require universal background checks for most gun sales in Utah, though a similar effort died last year without a hearing.