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Virginia militia triggers Texas gun debate

A 9 mm pistol and ammunition sit on top of an AF Form 1314 Firearms Registration form and a DD Form 2760 Qualification to Possess Firearms or Ammunitions form at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., July 10, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class J. T. Armstrong)

With 34 of their counties already declared 2nd Amendment sanctuaries, Texans are closely watching Virginia, where Tazewell County supervisors voted unanimously last week to organize an active militia – a measure they believe is necessary to protect 2nd Amendment rights.

Nearly 350 U.S. counties have declared themselves 2nd Amendment sanctuaries. Up to now, however, they were generally regarded as symbolic resolutions by local governments to preserve what they consider their Second Amendment rights.

Tazewell County, however, is the first 2nd Amendment sanctuary to militarize its residents.

Anderson County resident Matt Kuhl told the Herald-Press the mere notion of armed 2nd Amendment militias sets a dangerous precedent.

“Sanctuary counties are already a slippery slope,” Kuhl said. “They invite citizens and county officials to stand in opposition to potential state and federal laws not limited to firearms.”

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Kuhl, 39, a gun-owner, said sanctuary counties backed by armed militias would also undermine both local and inter-state travel and commerce.

Anderson County commissioners have not even debated becoming a 2nd Amendment sanctuary. County Judge Robert Johnston told the Herald-Press Monday he sees no reason for the county to become one.

“This is East Texas,” he said. “No one has any question as to how we feel about the 2nd Amendment.”

The federal court will settle the legality of 2nd Amendment sanctuary counties, Johnston said. Meantime, Texans should pay attention.

“We should be watching Virginia, and everywhere else,” Johnston said. “We should always be aware of what’s going on in our country.”

A militia is an armed para-military force formed by civilians. Such armed civilian groups often have been linked to far-right social and political movements, such as the Posse Comitatus.

Under the Virginia state constitution, counties have the authority to order a militia. By ordering every legal gun-owner in the county to become part of an active militia, similar to a conscription, county leaders said they can determine who owns a firearm, as well as what kinds of firearms militia members may possess.

Virginia leads the nation in 2nd Amendment sanctuaries, with 80 percent of its counties declared.

Sharon Davis, chairperson of the Anderson County Democratic Party, called the Tazewell militia a “stupid” idea and cautionary tale.

“It’s a knee-jerk reaction,” she said. “It’s a reaction, not a response. It fans political flames unnecessarily. Both sides need to learn how to have reasonable discussions.”

Davis, 71, said her father was a game warden; she grew up around guns. She now owns several guns; she and her husband are both licensed to carry a firearm.

“I’ve never feared my guns would be taken away,” she said. “Democrats own guns, too. Perhaps we should start teaching more critical thinking, reasoning, and social skills in the classroom.”

The Sheriff’s Association of Texas Executive Director Steve Westbrook told the Herald-Press that sanctuary counties are constitutionally valid. How they operate is strictly the purview of an elected sheriff.

“It is every sheriff’s duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the 2nd Amendment included,” he said.

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© 2019 the Palestine Herald-Press