LOVELL — As they mull whether and to what degree to pursue Second Amendment Sanctuary status, Big Horn County officials received a strong push in that direction Monday evening, May 3, as more than 120 county residents packed the Weed & Pest building outside of Greybull to voice concerns about federal government overreach.
“There’s no question in my mind that our Second Amendment is under fire in this country,” said Mark Patrick of Basin. “The defense of the Second Amendment starts at the county level and goes up to the state level, and the more people around the country who do what we do, the more say we’ll have in our government.”
“We have to protect our Second Amendment rights from the bottom up because if they come from the top down, they are going to crush us,” he added.
Patrick’s sentiments were echoed by more than a dozen others who spoke during the two-hour listening session. While voicing support for Second Amendment rights, the county commissioners called the meeting because they are debating whether to state their Second Amendment Sanctuary support by resolution or proclamation.
Commissioner Dave Neves, who was joined at the head table by Sheriff Ken Blackburn and County Attorney Marcia Bean, announced early on that the commissioners would not be taking action on the sanctuary issue when they meet this week. A decision is more likely to come at their May 18 meeting, he said.
Scott Brown of Lovell, the chairman of the Big Horn County Republican Party, urged the commission to draft “a resolution with teeth in it” rather than a proclamation, which he described as little more than “a gutless, feel-good measure.”
He said that of the eight counties that have taken action to become Second Amendment Sanctuary counties only two of them — Weston and Fremont — included specific language stating that county funds could not be used to enforce any federal law that does not follow the U.S. Constitution.
The tone of the meeting was set by the speakers. John Foster, who recently relocated to Lovell, spoke of being a former law enforcement officer in Massachusetts, “the real frontline” where “the fight is real,” he said.
He called it “damn near impossible” to purchase a firearm, adding that cases of police not showing up when summoned are increasing.
Janet Evans said she moved to rural Big Horn County from the state of Washington, where moving trucks have become increasingly difficult to find.
“People aren’t using them to move in — they are using them to move out. People are leaving the West Coast because they aren’t being listened to and because they’ve closed down transparent government there,” she said.
LaRoy Schell of Basin described a person he knows who is still dealing with the trauma caused by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents who, acting on a tip, raided this person’s home and put him in lockdown for three hours. The search turned up nothing, he said.
“It’s scary the direction our country is headed,” said Sheriff Ken Blackburn in response to Schell’s account. “A law-abiding citizen can have this happen to him — but people can throw rocks, hurt people and do all kinds of stuff in the city and will be allowed to do it because they’re just expressing their First Amendment rights.”
On the importance of the Second Amendment, all agreed.
Lisa Kimsey of Manderson said, “It’s our right to bear arms and to protect ourselves,” adding, “By becoming a sanctuary county for the Second Amendment, you are taking a stand that says to the rest of the state, ‘This is where we go and this is where we will be.’”
She said South Dakota and North Dakota are considering bills that say any action taken by the president that does not have the backing of Congress shall be considered by their state attorneys general, who would determine if they become the law of the state.
The strongest comments may have come from Sheriff Blackburn himself. He described himself as a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights and said he has pushed through a great many concealed weapons permits and is working with county superintendents to build hunter education into every sixth-grade curriculum.
“Everyone asks what I’m going to do when the feds come for our guns,” he continued. “Here’s my answer: My name (and address) will be at the top of the list. They can come to my house first. When they are done with me, then we can talk about going to the rest of Big Horn County.” Blackburn said he hopes it never comes to that, but his statement was well received by the audience.
“We all have tremendous trust issues right now with everything that we can’t hit a rock with,” said Fritz Nelson of Basin. “Sheriff Blackburn, you are our pillar (and the person) we need to have a relationship and trust with. That’s where it starts. It’s not, ‘He said, she said.’ You told us how you feel.”
Nelson also addressed a question posed by another attendee, who wondered whether a Second Amendment Sanctuary status was even needed, comparing the feds to a “a chained up dog. It looks a little mean. You’re not sure if it’ll bite. But by having a fortified front, by stating this is what we stand for, this dog won’t bite you.”
The Second Amendment should be enough to keep the dog at bay, he said, but you never know “the way the executive orders are flying.”
Bob Graham of Greybull joined in the chorus, urging the county to be proactive rather than reactive.
“We have to be the reddest county in the reddest state in the United States of America,” he said. “That’s how this has to be.”
While they didn’t cite it on Monday night, county officials have in recent weeks expressed concern about how taking a strong stand against the federal government might impact the flow of federal dollars into the county.
Several urged the county to put principal above it.
“The decision should be made based on doing the right thing, not on money,” said Jan Barnett of Shell.
Graham had voiced a similar sentiment earlier, stating, “States are legalizing marijuana on their own and (the federal government) is throwing more money at those states to help with their drug problem — that they created. They aren’t taking money away from them.
“It’s our opinion that that man (referring to Blackburn) is going to be our general and that when push comes to shove these people in here are going to be your army … and we are going to teach those people a lesson and tell them to stay the hell out. We are going to go by the Constitution and the Second Amendment.”
Dan Laffin, the chief of police in Lovell and former military, said he stands in lockstep with the sheriff in support of Second Amendment rights, adding, “I would expect, I would ask every citizen that is legally able to own a gun to own one, to own several, to own a bunch of ammo and to train with them. Absolutely. 100 percent.”
The other two commissioners, Felix Carrizales and Bruce Jolley, were unable to attend — Carrizales for health reasons, Jolley because he was flying into Billings that evening — but Neves told attendees that he feels the commission is “very much behind” taking a stand in support of the Second Amendment.
He added that he was confident that County Attorney Bean and her staff would produce a document for consideration that addresses the concerns of citizens, law enforcement and county government.