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Declaring Denton a “Bill of Rights Protected County” is an empty move

Declaring Denton a “Bill of Rights Protected County” is an empty move

Declaring Denton a “Bill of Rights Protected County” is an empty move
February 02
11:30 2020

In December 2019, the Denton County Commissioners Court passed a resolution by sheriff Tracy Murphree to designate Denton County a “Bill of Rights Protected County.”

The resolution came after multiple counties in Texas passed measures to become what is known as “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” Sheriff Murphree himself was initially going to just propose a resolution to turn Denton into another of these, but he decided to expand ‘protection’ to the entire Bill of Rights, according to the Denton Record-Chronicle. You can read Murphree’s thoughts on the matter and see a picture of the bill itself in a Facebook post on Murphree’s profile.

So, what does this measure mean for Denton? Well, it’s not clear from the resolution itself.

Much of the language of the court resolution is unsurprisingly vague. It’s largely conservative rhetoric is wrapped up in bland legal coding. In all likelihood, if the Texas State Senate did pass gun control measures, it would be overruled.

Now, much of this isn’t really worth anything, but one should also acknowledge the greater context in which this resolution exists.

First, there are those “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” It’s not entirely known when these began to emerge, though Effingham County in Illinois is a likely candidate for the origin. “Second Amendment sanctuaries” most recently began to pop up in Virginia as a paranoid reaction to the state Democrats successfully capturing the legislature. Those passing these measures carry the usual fear that the Democratic Party wants to “take away their guns.” The name itself is an ironic play on so-called “sanctuary cities,” where local governments limit the enforcement of federal immigration policies in order to strengthen cooperation between local police and undocumented immigrants.

These “sanctuaries” often resolve to not enforce what they see as “unconstitutional” laws by bypassing often broad and unclear declarations, which, in all likelihood, would get shot down in court. For further reading, Peter Galuszka’s article for the Washington Post, “The disturbing ‘Second Amendment sanctuary’ trend in Virginia,” is an excellent read for those curious. It goes into more detail around the ideology of the movement and some of the ways counties plan to subvert potential gun laws, such as one Sheriff proposing to deputize thousands of gun owners in his county if gun control measurements are written into law. Which is, in my opinion, questionable and extreme.

In former acting assistant attorney general Mary B. McCord’s piece, “Second Amendment ‘sanctuaries’ will never hold up in court,” for the Washington Times, notes that legislations like these, “misunderstand the limited powers of local jurisdiction, which exist solely based on authorities conferred by state law. State constitutions, statutes and common law generally affirm the “supremacy” of federal and state law, meaning that local jurisdictions are preempted from enacting conflicting ordinances and resolutions. And in no state do local governments have the prerogative to declare a state or federal law unconstitutional without involving the courts.”

In other words, if these “sanctuaries” were to go to court, they would fall flat. They’re about as strong as the paper they’re printed on and so is this “Bill of Rights Protection” resolution.

But this is indeed Texas. While a recent poll from the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas at Austin showed strong support for different measures, they also found that opinions hadn’t changed much in the wake of the shootings in Odessa and Midland, Texas. In fact, further measures to expand options for gun owners were passed the day after the shootings occurred. Despite apparently high levels of public support for even the most basic background checks, nothing like this has been on the table in either body of the state legislature.

So, with all of this, what is the meaning and take away from the resolution declaring Denton a “Bill of Rights Protected” county?

I’ve talked enough about how little muscle it would really have if it went up against the state. To me, however, it reaffirms the currently conservative leanings of the court and the base who voted in the district commissioners, the judge and the Sheriff. This shows that despite the rather large potential of liberal influence in the town of Denton thanks to UNT, the County itself is still at its core a largely conservative place. That likely won’t change for a while.

So, it’s all really quite symbolic. Symbolic of a desire to stand their ground and refusal to submit to change. This change being unlikely, but change all the same.

Featured Illustration: Jae-Eun Suh

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Will Tarpley

Will Tarpley

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