Gun control debate belongs at state level

Published 11:31 am Tuesday, January 14, 2020

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Too many people are turned off and tuned out to the overheated rhetoric of our national and even state-level politics.

We don’t need that kind of gridlock and rancor in our local politics.

Last week’s Nelson County Fiscal Court meeting was an example of what local politics is supposed to be about, and also what it should avoid.

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The first half hour or so involved magistrates and the judge-executive approving the county clerk’s budget, discussing at great length the qualities of engines and trucks while considering the need for new equipment at the county landfill and an update on the upcoming bulky-item pickup schedule. It was the small but important details that don’t make headlines, don’t go viral on social media and generally do not get any attention except by those involved in the decisions, the county workers affected and maybe a mention by the local media in a brief write-up. But these details matter if you want your garbage picked up, your roads paved or your title recorded at the clerk’s office. Most of us don’t really notice when the government shuts down in Washington, D.C. But if county government shut down, people might be surprised how fast they would be impacted.

But then, things ran off the rail. A group of gun rights advocates concerned that the state might infringe on their right guaranteed through the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to keep and bear arms addressed the court seeking to get the local government to pass a resolution that it would not enforce any laws that were “unconstitutional.”

Right up front, let us say: We are not trying to diminish the concerns of the members of this group, which calls itself Kentucky United. The people who took the time to come to a public meeting during the workday appear to be truly concerned.

But their effort to force local government votes seems misdirected, not to mention overblown given the current make-up of the state government and its voting record on gun laws.

Most of the members of the Fiscal Court were reluctant to act on anything that day, and the county attorney had passed along an advisory from the state county attorneys association urging caution in passing ordinances or resolutions on the subject. There has been a statewide effort to get local governments to pass ordinances — which have the effect of local law — or resolutions — which are an expression of policy or opinion — in reaction to gun control measures proposed during the interim session of the Kentucky General Assembly and in other states. It is a pressure tactic on Frankfort to not pass a law which, given the domination of both chambers by the Republican Party, is basically dead on arrival.

State law is pretty clear that passing a local ordinance is illegal. A resolution is debatable.

But unquestionably, it is not county government’s role to determine the constitutionality of any law. That is reserved for the courts, and the final arbiter is the Supreme Court.

When elected officials swear an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, they are not vowing to uphold their interpretation of the document. They are pledging to follow our system, which is based on the rule of law and endows the Supreme Court with the final interpretation of our Constitution.

There seems to be a theme running through much of the overheated rhetoric among gun culture websites and the NRA that their weapons are the last defense of our freedom from a tyrannical government. Such a notion is akin to a Hollywood action movie fantasy, though. Armed rebellions manned by benevolent freedom fighters make for decent movies, but it is not based on reality.

We need to place our hopes and faith in institutions, and work to strengthen them and safeguard them from political opportunists intent on amassing their own power with no regard for how it erodes the system our Founders intended.

It is our system of government and our shared values in the rule of law, which empower healthy institutions, that are going to best safeguard our freedoms.

Asking local governments to weigh in on divisive issues such as gun control laws and vote on measures that have no power or effect of law does the opposite. It weakens the local government by forcing a divisive debate when their time is best spent minding the details that we have elected them to make.

Resist gun control laws all you want. That’s your First Amendment right. But let’s direct that opposition where it belongs, with the people who have the power to pass or stop those laws. That is at the state level.

— The Kentucky Standard