Livingston declares itself ‘Constitutional County’ to resist gun reforms
- Livingston declares itself a ‘Constitutional County’ for gun rights
- GOP commissioners discourage enforcement of ‘red flag’ law
- Michigan GOP chair urges other counties to follow suit
LANSING — A conservative county board opposed to new gun violence prevention measures wants to limit enforcement of a proposed "red flag" law awaiting an expected signature by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
In a unanimous vote, Republicans who control the Livingston County Board of Commissioners on Monday night declared their jurisdiction a "Constitutional County” that protects the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.
The resolution urges Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy and Prosecutor David Reader to use "their utmost discretion" when deciding to enforce any law "that is contrary to the rights established" by the U.S. or Michigan constitutions.
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The resolution was prompted by the recent passage of red flag legislation that would allow a judge to confiscate firearms from a person deemed an imminent threat to themselves or others, Commissioner Wes Nakagiri told Bridge Michigan.
"We intend to use our discretion to represent the values of our local communities, and Livingston County is a very conservative county," Nakagiri said.
The resolution is the first high-profile act of local government defiance to gun violence prevention legislation approved by the state’s new Democratic-led Legislature following fatal mass shootings at Michigan State University in February and Oxford High School in 2021.
But as Bridge previously reported, dozens of conservative counties had already passed proactive resolutions declaring themselves "Second Amendment Sanctuaries" or regions that explicitly support Second Amendment rights.
Livingston County, a rapidly growing community of about 200,000 between metro Detroit and Lansing, has long been a conservative hotbed.
It declared itself a gun owner “sanctuary” in 2020, but the new resolution is "more strongly worded" and specifically encourages the sheriff and prosecutor to "use their discretion wisely," Nakagiri said after voting “hell yes” on the measure.
The board does not have legal authority to tell the county sheriff or prosecutor how to do their jobs, he acknowledged. But they do control budgets, and the resolution makes clear commissioners will not approve any funding to specifically support enforcement of laws that infringe on the Second Amendment rights "of any law-abiding citizen."
Murphy, the GOP Livingston County sheriff, has already publicly stated that he does not intend to enforce the proposed red flag law and explained his opposition in a recent video statement. Livingston’s resolution does not impact local police, who do not fall under the jurisdiction of the county commission.
Reader, the Republican prosecutor for Livingston County, did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment from Bridge Michigan.
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, also did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday but has said it is “unfortunate” and “irresponsible” that Murphy does not intend to enforce the proposed law.
“Whenever law enforcement has an opportunity to prevent someone from being murdered or taking their own life and refuse to do anything, that’s their job to protect the public,” Nessel told WLNS-TV last week.
Whitmer earlier this month signed new safe storage and universal background check laws. The former will require adults to secure their firearms if they are stored in a location that could be accessed by children. The latter expands a background check system for pistols to all guns.
The governor praised the new laws as a “common sense” approach to curbing gun violence and signaled she also intended to sign the red flag legislation.
Dozens of Second Amendment advocates blasted the red flag proposal on Monday night as they spoke out in favor of the Livingston County resolution, calling it an important step in the fight to preserve the rights of law-abiding gun owners.
"I pray the other counties follow suit," Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo told commissioners ahead of the vote, warning them they may “take heat” and be “mocked” for standing up on the issue.
Prior to the vote, Board Chair Dave Domas called the Livingston resolution "the beginning" of a larger effort to fight Democratic gun control bills.
Karamo, who last month faced criticism for comparing Democratic gun reforms to policies that enabled the holocaust in Nazi Germany, argued that new Michigan gun control laws could lead to "democide," a term used to describe the intentional killing of people by governments.
"Our Second Amendment rights are not about hunting,” Karamo said,“They're about protecting ourselves from a government with tyrannical aspirations."
Judy Daubenmier, chair of the Livingston County Democratic Party, condemned the resolution as a "phony, irresponsible and unconstitutional" attempt to evade important "checks and balances" in the legal system.
"The county has no discretion to ignore court orders to enforce laws, such as extreme risk protection (red flag) orders, after a valid court order has been issued," Daubenmeir said.
The resolution is ostensibly about guns but could be "used in the future by MAGA groups to bully the county into ignoring many other laws if they can find a conspiracy theory that makes them afraid of it," she warned.
Whitmer's pending signature will make Michigan the 20th state to enact a red flag law. Most have been deemed constitutional by courts in those states, but a New York judge last year declared a red flag law there unconstitutional.
Michigan Democrats say their version of the legislation includes additional due process measures to protect the constitutional rights of gun owners. The proposal is supported by both the Michigan Sheriff's Association and the Police Officers Association of Michigan.
A red flag law would be "another tool for law enforcement to use while investigating threats of mass violence," said Matt Saxton, CEO and Executive Director of the Michigan Sheriffs Association.
His group is backing the legislation awaiting Whitmer's signature but still has concerns the proposal could be "abused" because it would allow a variety of people — not just police — to petition for gun confiscation, Saxton told Bridge.
"Until these laws are in place and in effect, I don’t know that it can be said one way or the other if they will be enforced," he said, noting the red flag law is unlikely to take effect until spring 2024 at the earliest.
Under the Michigan bills, family members, current and ex-spouses, dating partners, law enforcement officers and mental health professionals could petition a judge for an extreme risk protection order that would require a gun owner to turn in their weapon or face seizure by police.
“This is not about taking away anyone's guns...,” House Judiciary Committee Chair Kelly Breen, D-Novi, said ahead of a floor vote earlier this month. “It is a tool for law enforcement to intervene before something terrible happens. “
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