The Wilkin County Board voted against a resolution establishing Wilkin County as a “Dedicated Second Amendment County” at a Tuesday, Sept. 21 meeting. Commissioners Eric Klindt and Dennis Larson voted in favor of the resolution and commissioners Jonathan Green, Lyle Hovland and Neal Folstad voted against it.
The movement was spearheaded by Roseau County in February 2020, when their county board passed a resolution that stated the intent to oppose any “infringement on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms using legal means” and “its intent that public funds of the county not be used to restrict the Second Amendment rights of the citizens.”
Roseau County was the first in the state of Minnesota to pass such a resolution, but since then, 17 other counties have followed suit. Nationwide, around 1,137 of counties are labeled “Second Amendment sanctuary counties,” according to a map by SanctuaryCounties.com, a freelance website that tracks pro-gun movements across the U.S.
Wilkin County residents Rick Busko, Dan Swedlund and around 280 others want Wilkin County to be the next to adopt a similar resolution. Busko and Swedlund brought the commissioners a petition with several hundred signatures from residents of each district in the county who signed in support of designating Wilkin County a dedicated Second Amendment county.
“A petition to me carries weight,” Larson said. “It’s what your constituents feel. So I think we have to consider that we have 200-plus signatures of people that, without question, signed onto this.”
Wilkin County Sheriff Rick Fiedler said he and the majority of his deputies are also in favor of the resolution. In Wilkin County, every potential gun owner or permit holder undergoes a background check. Fiedler said he is in support of the resolution in the event the government introduces restrictive legislation.
“I believe that if our government takes away the guns from the good people, the bad people will still have those guns, and from that, it could result in chaos,” Fiedler said.
Green, who was the tiebreaker vote at Tuesday’s meeting, said he voted against the resolution because the county board is an apolitical entity and the resolution is a politicized issue. By taking a stand one way or the other, the board would be making a political statement, he said.
“My point is this, next week I’m going to have an abortion rights group come in and the next week after I’m going to have a pro-life group come in,” Green said. “Where do we draw the line of people coming in and saying, ‘We want this board to take a stance politically?’”
Busko, Swedlund, and commissioners Larson and Klindt disagreed with Green, stating Constitutional rights are not political. The Second Amendment is for everyone regardless of race, gender or political affiliation, Busko said.
Green, a gun-owner and supporter of the Second Amendment, argued that even if it shouldn't be a political issue, gun rights have been made into one. If gun control bills are not passing in the state legislature because it’s split, it’s a political issue, Green said.
“I can guarantee that if you were to poll every single person in our district — which is like a 60-40 split Republican-Democrat — you’re going to have a way higher support of it,” Klindt said.
Klindt also pointed out the county had taken a political stance on T21, a grassroots initiative that raised the legal age to buy tobacco to 21. Eighty-one cities and counties in the state raised the legal age to 21 before statewide legislation passed in August 2020, Daily News previously reported.
Green said the county should not have taken a stance on T21, and that it should not take a stance on this. Issues like T21 and gun rights are issues for the legislature and the courts to ponder, he said, and passing such a resolution at the county level would be outside the bounds of their duties as commissioners.
“This is a non-political body,” Green said. “We don’t run as Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, liberals. It seems to me that this issue is a political issue and that this board is being asked to take a political stance on a political issue. We shouldn’t be dealing with this at the county level. … I’m on the side of the other 70 who haven’t passed it.”
Folstad and Hovland both said previously they are in support of the Second Amendment, but Folstad questioned the necessity of the resolution. In May, Hovland said he had received comments from constituents who are opposed to the resolution. As board chair, Folstad did not need to vote “no” in order for the resolution to fail, but he said he wanted to be on record as having voted against it.
Supporters first brought the resolution forward at a May 11 meeting this year. Commissioners expressed concerns surrounding the legality of the language of the original resolution. Green previously said he would consider voting in favor of the resolution if language surrounding the intent to not use public funds to restrict Second Amendment rights was struck. The board tabled action until their next meeting.
A revised draft similar to Roseau County’s resolution was presented at a May 18 meeting, and Klindt moved to pass an amended version that struck a paragraph that read, “The Wilkin County Board of Commissioners hereby expresses its intent that public funds of the county not be used to restrict the second amendment rights of the citizens of Wilkin County, or to aid federal or state agencies in the restriction of said rights.” It did not pass on a stalemate vote, with Green absent.
The resolution was presented for a third time at Tuesday’s meeting, this time with language that stated, “That the Wilkin Board of Commissioners hereby declares its intent to oppose any infringement on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms using such legal means as may be expedient, including, without limitation, court action.” Once again, the motion failed.
Busko said the resolution is symbolic, meaning that it holds no legal weight or obligation, but they want the support of the county because it looks stronger at the state level than a group of constituents who are standing behind an issue. Busko and Swedlund said they are concerned with several bills in the state House and Senate, namely “red flag” bills.
Six Minnesota state Senate and House bills in the 2021-2022 legislative session seek to tighten restrictions on gun access. Two gun control laws passed the House but failed in the Senate February 2020 during the previous legislative session, Daily News previously reported.*
Swedlund said he had talked with both Rep. Jeff Backer (R-12A) and Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-12) who said they would support the county becoming a dedicated Second Amendment county. Swedlund and Busko’s are concerned if Democrats have the majority in both the state House and Senate, gun control bills could pass.
Busko said they will reevaluate their approach and see if there is anything to be done before the commissioners are up for election in 2022. Busko and Swedlund said they would be back in front of the commissioners before leaving Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s just frustrating,” Busko said. “I don’t think they (who voted against it) get the gravity of this. I feel every day the government is trying to change our rights. This is just to give our representatives more backing, show them this is what the people want.”