Marshall County Working To Have Kentucky’s First 'Sanctuary County' Ordinance For Guns

Dec 17, 2019

The Marshall County Fiscal Court discusses a "SASO" measure at a meeting on December 17, 2019.
Credit Dalton York / WKMS

A west Kentucky county where a deadly high school shooting last year claimed the lives of two students is considering making the county a “sanctuary” for gun rights.

The Marshall County Fiscal Court met Tuesday to discuss what’s called a Second Amendment Sanctuary County ordinance, or SASO. The ordinance says that, if enacted, county officials cannot “knowingly and willingly, participate in any way in the enforcement of any Unlawful Act, as defined herein, regarding personal firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition.”

The proposed ordinance defines an unlawful act as any federal or state regulation or law that “restricts an individual’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms”, or any regulation or law that bans, registers or limits the “lawful use of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition (other than a fully automatic firearm which is made unlawful by Federal law).”

Similar ordinances have been approved by jurisdictions across the country, and supporters of this kind of legislation say the ordinances protect against infringements on gun rights. 

The court heard from a gun rights advocate before discussing the ordinance. Val Finnell is the Pennsylvania director of Gun Owners of America, a gun lobby group. Finnell said the court should act to protect Second Amendment rights. 

“I would hope that Marshall County sets the example for what every county in Kentucky should do to protect their citizens from unconstitutional laws,” Finnell said. “May God give you the courage and conviction to stand in the gap.”

Judge/Executive Kevin Neal asked the crowd for a show of hands of who would be willing to "stand in the gap" in support of gun rights,
Credit Dalton York / WKMS

Finnell said, as of November, about 240 counties and cities across the country enacted SASO’s. He said Illinois, Colorado, New Mexico and Washington have SASO’s in a majority of their counties. 

Marshall County Judge/Executive Kevin Neal said he expects controversy over the ordinance, but he said county officials made efforts to ensure the legality of the measure. 

Kentucky Revised Statute 65.870 prohibits local governments from regulating firearms. Neal said the ordinance does not interfere with the law. 

“At the end of the day, with this ordinance, we’re not regulating under that statute,” Neal said. “It’s hard to believe that we actually have to look at putting an ordinance in place to protect our God-given rights.”

Neal said he hopes the ordinance sets a standard for future SASO’s throughout the Commonwealth. He said he plans to send the ordinance to other Judge/Executives in the state for their consideration. 

“My intent is to get this to the other counties within the state so we can send a loud message to our representatives in Frankfort that we’re serious about this.”

Marshall County Attorney Jason Darnall gave legal advice to the court. He said the ordinance seeks to override state and federal law, which is not within the jurisdiction of the fiscal court. 

“If you can’t find a statutory basis for it, then it’s not valid under Kentucky law,” Darnall said.

The ordinance also lays out penalties for violations of the ordinance, which include civil action in district court. Marshall County’s law enforcement officers would be tasked with enforcing the ordinance. However, Darnall said the county does not have that authority.

“When a local government acts, it needs to act with authority from the state government. Because that’s where the authority comes from. The state giveth and the state taketh away.”

Darnall said if the ordinance is enacted, the county will be vulnerable to legal action challenging the constitutionality of the measure.

After a full reading of the ordinance by Neal, the measure advanced to a second reading. The SASO would take effect immediately upon approval from the court after the second reading.

See the proposed ordinance below:

2nd amendment draft ordinance copy (1).pdf by Dalton York on Scribd