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2nd Amendment Sanctuary resolution passed in Des Moines County

Second Amendment


Des Moines County on Tuesday officially became the 35th county in Iowa to adopt a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution following a unanimous vote by the majority Democrat board of supervisors.

For the supervisors and other supporters of the trend being pushed by the Iowa Firearms Coalition, Des Moines County’s new Second Amendment sanctuary status is a show of unity across political parties in support of a constitutional right amid concerns over potential federal gun control laws.

For opponents, the declaration of the county as a Second Amendment sanctuary is no more than a politically charged gesture with no legal standing that fails to include other liberties guaranteed under the Bill of Rights and creates confusion over who can decide the constitutionality of laws.

What is a 2nd amendment sanctuary? 

Under the resolution, the county opposes “the enactment of any legislation that would infringe upon the constitutional right of the people of Des Moines County to keep and bear arms.”

The resolution will not change what or how laws are enforced in Des Moines County.

“Basically, it’s just them politically stating as a board that they resist any gun legislation that they feel would restrict someone’s rights to carry firearms, but as far as legal authority, no,” Des Moines County Attorney Lisa Schaefer told The Hawk Eye in a phone call after the meeting. “Law enforcement and our office are still obligated to abide by the law regardless of whether we agree, disagree or have our own opinions about it.”

The vote followed questions and comments by several county residents both in favor and against the measure. 

What is an unconstitutional law and who decides that?

Burlington resident Dale Alison was the first to address the supervisors about the contents of the resolution, which mentions unknown laws that may be passed that may infringe upon Second Amendment rights and thus be unconstitutional. 

“I was wondering, Mr. Cary, if you could describe what an unconstitutional law is,” Alison said, addressing board chairman Jim Cary, a Democrat. “It seems like an oxymoron to me.”

Cary responded by recalling the oath he took when joining the Navy, and an oath he has taken three times since when being sworn into office on the county board, to uphold the U.S. Constitution. 

“Any law that we have is a constitutional law,” Cary said before speaking specifically about the Second Amendment. “The Second Amendment gives us the right to hold and bear arms. An unconstitutional law would be to take that away from me.”

Alison, still seeking clarity on his question, referred to a sign posted outside the front door of the courthouse that states that the carrying of firearms is restricted by law and that anyone entering the building will be subject to search for unauthorized weapons.

“Is that a constitutional law?” Alison asked. “Does it say anywhere in the Constitution that I can’t bring a gun into the courthouse? And who decides what an unconstitutional law is? To me, there’s a separate branch of government that decides that.”

Cary admitted he does not know what an unconstitutional law is and said he did not wish to argue about the matter. 

Des Moines County Sheriff Kevin Glendening stepped in hoping to provide clarity. 

“An unconstitutional law would be any law that’s not consistent with the Constitution,” he said. “That’s why both the U.S. Constitution and the constitution of Iowa has a segment in it that states that any law passed not in accordance with this is not constitutional, is not a lawful law. There are laws that are passed on a regular basis that are not constitutional.”

Indeed there are. Schaefer pointed to a section of Iowa’s disorderly conduct law disallowing people from making “loud and raucous noise in the vicinity of any residence or public building which causes unreasonable distress to the occupants.”

U.S. District Judge Rebecca Goodgame Ebinger deemed that section of the law “unconstitutionally vague” in September 2019.

“We enforced it for years, and now the state legislature, the county has taken that particular alternative out of the code, and so it’s ultimately up to the courts to decide what’s constitutional,” Schaefer said. 

More: Will Des Moines County become a 2nd Amendment sanctuary? Supervisors show support ahead of vote

Whether a law is unconstitutional, and therefore whether it should be enforced, Schaefer explained, is up to the courts. 

Alison went on to reference Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, which declares federal laws that could restrict gun ownership by law-abiding residents of the state as invalid and holds state and local law enforcement officers financially viable for enforcing federal firearm regulations invalidated by state law. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit last week challenging the SAPA. 

“Already, the U.S. government is suing the state of Missouri over a similar law,” Alison said. “Is this board willing, if some entity chooses to sue Des Moines County, should this ordinance be enacted, are you willing to pick up legal expenses to fight it?”

Cary indicated the county would not pay for any legal expenses relating to the Second Amendment sanctuary resolution. 

Why a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary resolution?

Supervisor Shane McCampbell, a Democrat, explained that often when the county takes up resolutions like the one being discussed Tuesday, it is at the request of residents. 

“People have beliefs, they have stuff that we care about, and they say, hey, we want a proclamation,” McCampbell said. “I’m not a gun man, but I’m definitely a protector of rights. I’m always going to side with, even if it’s a proclamation with no teeth, with protecting people’s rights.”

Cary, pointing out that Alison’s questioning had exceeded the two-minute time limit allotted for each member of the public to speak, pointed to the line of questioning as a symptom of the political chasm dividing Democrats and Republicans.

More: Des Moines County supervisors propose 16% decrease in funds, budgetary control for Conservation

“This has become a political issue between the Democrats and the Republicans, and this is a good example of why this country is in the shape it’s in, because they will not work together. They will not be bipartisan,” Cary said. “We got a tri-partisan here. We get along good. We work together. We don’t agree on everything, but until that happens, I’m going to stick with what I swore to to the Constitution.”

Supervisor Tom Broeker, the lone Republican on the three-member board, explained that the Second Amendment is about more than firearms. 

“It’s about rights. When Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson famously said the very purpose of the Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy and place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials,” Broeker said. “Keeping those rights beyond the reach of majorities and officials is exactly what this resolution seeks to support.”

Alison suggested that the resolution be expanded to make Des Moines County a Bill of Rights sanctuary, but the idea was not discussed by the supervisors. 

Al Nielsen, another Des Moines County resident, spoke in favor of the resolution, explaining that while it may be “toothless,” it sends legislators a clear message of what their constituents want when it comes to gun laws.

“We see it eroded a little bit at a time day after day. We see it on the federal level. They’re coming after us. They want to take a little bit more and a little bit more and a little bit more,” Nielsen said. “We want to have this on record so they know they’re going to have opposition when they hit the local level.”

Asked for specifics following the meeting, Nielsen referenced a statement made by 2020 presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke during a September 2019 debate: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.”

For West Burlington resident and 20-year military veteran Marlin Dubetz, the Second Amendment, and the resolution supporting it, are essential in the fight against evil. 

He referenced mass shootings, terrorist attacks, civil unrest in Portland, and foreign threats, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, in his argument. 

“When you look at all those catastrophes, there’s one common thread: They’re all evil,” he said. “It’s evil that we’re against. It’s not guns that are the problem, and until we figure out how to eliminate evil — which is a whole nother topic — the Second Amendment gives us the right to be prepared to defend our property, our lives and our kids’ lives when evil decides to knock at our door or come to our city.”

Nielsen and Mark Cormick, another Des Moines County resident who did not speak during the meeting but gathered with a small group of supporters of the resolution afterward, said the Second Amendment is vital in protecting other rights.

More: If supervisors accept recommendations, they will get twice the raise of AFSCME workers

“Without the Second Amendment, all of our rights are in serious danger,” McCormick said.

The passing of the resolution in Des Moines County was a victory not just for local supporters, but also for members of the Iowa Firearms Coalition, a nonprofit affiliate of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. 

In a press release issued by the organization about an hour after the resolution was passed, Dave Funk, president of the IFC, said the group is pleased. 

“As more counties continue to pass Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions, we are confident a message is being sent to our legislators in Des Moines and Washington that Iowans will not stand for violations against our civil rights,” Funk said.     

The IFC further stated that the county-level resolution does not supersede federal law but that it does prevent local resources from being used to assist in efforts to violate the Second Amendment by the federal government.

Resolution raises questions on governmental body’s role

Matt Shivers, another resident of Des Moines County, however, pointed out that there is little limiting what guns people can buy and questioned whether the county should take such a stand, as well as whether it sets a precedent. 

“Laws are there to get guns in the hands of the right people and protect those who don’t have the guns,” Shivers said. “I feel like what we’re encouraging is to deny or object to laws that we disagree with, and to me, that’s a civil disobedience issue, which I think is better taken on an individual basis rather than as a government body.

“It seems to me what we’re saying is if we don’t like the law, we’re not going to follow it. I know when I don’t follow a law, I usually get in trouble for it. I feel like we need to encourage law enforcement people to follow the laws that are out there, and if it’s an unconstitutional law, then the legal system will identify that.”

More: New Iowa gun law allowing permitless handgun carry, purchase takes effect. Here’s what changes

Michaele Niehaus covers business, development, environment and agriculture for The Hawk Eye. She can be reached at mniehaus@thehawkeye.com.



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