The Marshall County Fiscal Court unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday evening which states the county will not follow any state or federal laws regulating guns that local officials perceive to be unconstitutional. The resolution follows other similar resolutions passed by counties to reassert gun rights across the Commonwealth.
The resolution would declare Marshall County a “safe harbor” for second amendment rights, while also expressing the county government doesn’t intend to use resources to enforce federal or state gun regulations it perceives as unconstitutional.
County officials previously postponed consideration of a similar ordinance that would have levied fines -- a maximum $2,000 -- for those who cooperated with perceived unconstitutional gun regulations. Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall raised concerns about the constitutionality of the ordinance when it was introduced during a December 2019 Marshall County Fiscal Court meeting, in particular that gun regulation exceeded the fiscal court’s authority.
Marshall County Judge-Executive Kevin Neal said the resolution has the backing of a legal opinion from Attorney General Daniel Cameron and doesn’t violate state law. Cameron traveled to the Marshall County Courthouse to show support for the resolution.
“The residents, not only in Marshall County but across the state -- we’re not going to stand for any unconstitutional laws that come out of the General Assembly,” Neal said. “Having the attorney general get behind the resolution is profound on the initiative, and I think it sends a profound message to our legislators in Frankfort.”
A resolution does not have the enforcement of an ordinance and only expresses the opinion of the fiscal court. The resolution also expresses it shouldn’t be misconstrued that the county won’t follow federal and state gun regulations regarding the carrying firearms in government buildings, schools, and private establishments that ban firearms.
Neal said while there isn’t current legislation moving through the General Assembly that he considers aimed at infringing on second amendment rights, he views the resolution as a proactive measure.
“The greatest example we have of rights threatened is what happened in Virginia," said Kent Masterton Brown, a Lexington attorney who helped craft the resolution. "No sooner did one party get a majority in the house and senate...when the threats came out.”
Virginia’s capitol saw thousands of gun owners converge last month in protest against gun control measures, including universal background checks, moving through a newly-elected Democrat-controlled state legislature. Marshall County’s resolution specifically references the statutes advocated by Virginia Democrats as “alarming.”
Brown also said a resolution was favored over an ordinance for Marshall County because the latter was considered unnecessary.
“We’re not at that stage at this point. We haven’t seen a bill. We haven’t seen an executive order,” Brown said. “There’s no need to try and say, pass rules about ‘do’s and don’ts because we don’t know what we want someone to do or not to do.”
The resolution calls for county leadership to consider more potential ordinances which could defy state or federal gun regulations perceived as unconstitutional. Darnall said while he supports the county’s resolution, future proposed ordinances could also face legality concerns.
“The problem when you’re talking about an ordinance is, like I’ve mentioned before, any time a county or city enacts an ordinance, they gotta look to authority from the state to see if they can do that,” he said. “The state has made it pretty clear that [it] occupies the field in firearm regulation.”
Darnall said having the state control firearm regulations allows for people to travel throughout the state without having to worry about varying firearm regulations.
Other counties in west Kentucky have been more hesitant in taking action regarding second amendment rights. Trigg County’s resolution affirming the second amendment stopped short of offering legal implications because of constitutionality concerns. McCracken County Fiscal Court declined to pass a resolution or ordinance supporting the second amendment.
Yet, Neal said he would face the risk of lawsuits to introduce a new ordinance defying state or federal gun regulations.
“If the General Assembly passes an unconstitutional law infringing on those rights, absolutely. I’ll have an ordinance prepared, I’ll submit it, and we’ll go to court,” he added.
Neal said he plans to submit a template of the resolution to the Kentucky County Judge-Executive Association that other counties could use.