Somerset County may be newest Second Amendment Sanctuary

County Commissioners hearing public comment on resolution


PRINCESS ANNE — One year ago the Somerset County Commissioners let their General Assembly delegation know they were in support of the Second Amendment and the right of citizens to bear arms.

This week they are scheduled to introduce a resolution formalizing their support and following a public hearing on Tuesday expected to take a final vote on April 13 — the birthday of Thomas Jefferson — who is quoted in the draft resolution with lines from two of his letters penned in the late 1780s.

“What country can preserve its liberties if its rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance,” Mr. Jefferson wrote in 1787 when he was in Paris and shortly after the U.S. Constitution was written.

Four years later the Bill of Rights which included 10 amendments was ratified with the Second Amendment stating in part, “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

In addition to remarks from the nation’s founders, Somerset County’s draft resolution reads in part that “it is the natural tendency of civil government to expand beyond the limits of its rightful charter and to usurp authority and power which have not been authorized to it by God nor delegated to it by the consent of the governed, therefore, it is the duty of the people, through the agency of the lesser magistrate (local elected officials and Sheriff), to challenge the civil government when and where it exceeds authority and to remind overstepping officials thereof from whence their just powers devolve and of the limits to which they may extend.”

It also cites two U.S. Supreme Court decisions, one being the District of Columbia v. Heller which “affirmed the right to keep and bear arms is unconnected to any service in a militia.” In United States v. Miller, the majority “opined that firearms that are part of ordinary military equipment, or with use that could contribute to the common defense are protected by the Second Amendment.”

It concludes that the Board of County Commissioners “believes the Maryland General Assembly produces legislation that is clearly unconstitutional and be it further resolved that the Board, in affirmation of the Second Amendment rights of the citizens of Somerset County, herein directs that Somerset County Government shall not authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purposes of enforcing any element of any law that infringes upon the right of the people to keep and bear arms.”

As Commissioner President Craig Mathies Sr. wrote last March the board understands the need to enact measures to ensure public safety, but legislation in Annapolis can have “a negative impact on Second Amendment rights, and not protect our citizens in having the right to bear arms, to which we feel will infringe on their ‘pursuit of happiness’” as stated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence. In a message from the county office last Thursday he said there was “renewed interest” in the effort to reconsider passing a resolution.

Ahead of the County Commissioners is Sheriff Ronnie Howard, who adopted his own declaration that Somerset County is a Second Amendment Sanctuary. He signed a proclamation stating that he “strongly believes that the right of citizens to keep and bear arms is a fundamental right that should be protected to the greatest degree possible.”

His stand comes from his oath to defend and uphold the U.S. Constitution, and as Sheriff of Somerset County he will “protect the constitutional rights of its citizens, and will not unconstitutionally infringe their rights to keep and bear arms.”

He also cites a Supreme Court case, McDonald v. Chicago, which “affirmed that the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution applies to the states through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment....”

“They’re targeting law abiding citizens,” the sheriff said, and sees an erosion of the Constitutional right to legally obtain, possess and use firearms. One of those ways he said is through the use of the term “weapons of war” which often is used to reference an AR-15. He said in the SCSO arsenal there are military surplus weapons including Winchester 12 gauge shotguns and Glock 9 mm sidearms which could fall into that description and be banned.

“People believe the message ‘weapons of war,’” unfortunately, if you repeat the lie long enough, the lie becomes the truth.” As the owner of two AR-15s himself, the sheriff said he will not give them up. “This is just another attempt to chip away at the Second Amendment.”

Sheriff Howard is in favor of the commissioners’ proposed resolution, and believes there is support for its adoption. As a resolution, it would represent the board’s formal expression of the county’s feeling and resolve about the Second Amendment, but unlike an ordinance it would not have the effect of law and violations could not be enforced by the courts.

A similar proclamation was adopted earlier in March by Wicomico County Sheriff Mike Lewis, but the County Council there has not voted on a resolution as of yet. Gun rights advocates are concerned that President Joe Biden will sign an executive order curtailing gun ownership or allow the seizure of firearms without a warrant. They are also on alert for legislation proposed by the Democrat majority in Congress.

The House of Representatives recently passed two resolutions, one favoring background checks ahead of the private transfer of firearms and another extending the time for an “instant” background check from three business days to 10 or longer which are now in the Senate.

And more is expected especially after two recent mass shootings, one in a grocery store in Boulder and another at a massage parlor in Atlanta which combined left 18 people dead.

If Somerset County adopts the resolution it will join Cecil, Harford, Calvert, St. Mary’s, Carroll and Allegany counties as 2A Sanctuary counties with Garrett last year declaring itself a “Second Amendment Preservation County.”

The commissioners will accept written comments on the proposed resolution through Friday, April 9.