After more than two hours of public comment and discussion late Thursday, the Blount County Commission passed a resolution declaring the community a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”
The vote was 15-4, with Commissioners Rick Carver, Ron French, Jackie Hill and Linda Webb voting against the resolution. Commissioner Tom Stinnett abstained and Commissioner Joe McCulley was absent.
More than three dozen people spoke during the public comment period, most to support the resolution, with applause for speakers on both sides of the issue. Because of the overflow crowd, some had to be called in from the hallway when it was their turn to speak.
In response to questions about what “sanctuary” means, Commissioner Steve Mikels said the language simply mirrors what is being used in Western states in communities opposed to “red flag laws,” such as bills that died in the Tennessee General Assembly this year.
The intent of the resolution is to send a message to legislators that citizens are opposed to those bills, Mikels said. He and other supporters of the resolution said current laws are sufficient to deal with people who may pose a danger.
Proposed legislation would allow people to petition courts for extreme risk protection orders to have guns temporarily removed from a person who may be an imminent risk to themselves or others.
Supporters of the resolution said such laws are the tip of the iceberg in an attempt to strip people of their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms without due process, while opponents say the laws are a tool to protect people from gun owners who are violent or mentally ill.
Both Hill and Stinnett said they had a problem with the word “sanctuary.” Carver and other speakers noted that the Blount County Commission had passed a resolution in 2013 affirming citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Speaking before the vote, Commissioner Dodd Crowe said, “I’ve never seen so much passion in one meeting.”
Mikels assured those opposed the resolution he co-sponsored that he heard their concerns for safety, but he said the issue isn’t about guns. “It’s about hearts,” Mikels said. “It’s about mental health.”
“We must, must protect the Second Amendment at all costs,” he said, “and this is where it starts.”
Hill said she supports the Second Amendment but also preventing deaths without infringing on those rights. She said she also appreciated the passion with which people spoke during the meeting and added she’d also like to see citizens at the meetings when they are discussing education and the jail.
Webb said if voters in her district supported the resolution, she had not heard from them. She said she has respect for both sides and would like to have a public forum, adding, “I think a lot of people still don’t understand.”