Commissioners

Dan Harnish, of Hopewell, tells the Bedford County commissioners about a petition to make the county a “Second Amendment sanctuary” on Tuesday.

A group of county residents is distributing petitions in an effort to convince the Bedford County commissioners to pass a “Second Amendment sanctuary” ordinance.

The proposal comes after heated debates through Virginia, where dozens of counties and cities have declared themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” in response to the state legislature’s proposals for firearm restrictions that would ban “assault” weapons, raise the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21 and require background checks for any firearm transfer.

Dan Harnish of Hopewell and Rick Shimer of Bedford are two of the residents circulating petitions urging the Bedford County commissioners to pass an ordinance that was developed by the nationwide organization Gun Owners of America. Both men attended the commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday.

“We’re circulating petitions and it’s really going crazy,” Harnish told the board. “People are really in favor of it.”

The six-page ordinance would prohibit Bedford County from enforcing any new state or federal laws that would “violate the Second Amendment” by imposing additional bans or restrictions on gun ownership.

The ordinance defines “unlawful acts” as any federal or state law that restricts an individual’s constitutional right to keep and bear arms, including any law that bans or limits the lawful use of firearms, firearm accessories or ammunition, other than the regulations outlined in the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

“Any such ‘Unlawful Act’ is invalid in Bedford County and shall not be recognized by Bedford County, is specifically rejected by voters of Bedford County, and shall be considered null, void and of no effect in Bedford County,” the proposed ordinance states.

After the meeting, Harnish said the proposed legislation in Virginia has influenced the movement in Pennsylvania, which he said has led to petitions by residents in all 67 counties.

“All the events in Virginia are a big influence,” he said. “We’re trying to keep Virginia out of it, because it’s a Pennsylvania thing. But Virginia is there.”

Commissioner Josh Lang asked Harnish about the legality of the proposed ordinance. Harnish responded by saying the Gun Owners of America will handle any legal battles associated with the ordinance.

“Any legal fees and stuff they would handle,” he said. “It wouldn’t be a burden on the taxpayers of Bedford County if you do end up in a legal battle.”

Lang told Harnish that the county will review the ordinance with its solicitor.

Lang said after the meeting that he supports “doing something” to support firearms rights, noting he is a member of the NRA.

“I’m very supportive of Second Amendment rights and wouldn’t want to do anything to infringe them,” he said. “You see the things that are happening across the country. It’s important for leaders to show leadership on this issue.”

Commissioner Barry Dallara said he is opposed to gun laws proposed or passed in other states.

“I don’t like what Virginia is doing. I don’t like what Colorado has done, what California has done,” Dallara said.

“I know there are people who have moved out of California in order to retain ownership of their guns. So we want to be supportive, and we’ll lobby our legislators.”

Dallara said the commissioners would seek input from District Attorney Lesley Childers-Potts and Sheriff Wayne Emerick, noting the county must also be mindful not to inadvertently encourage residents to break the law.

“We’re going to be as supportive as we can, and we’re also going to make sure we don’t do something that says to people ‘don’t obey the law,’ ” he said.

The commissioners said they are not aware of any proposed legislation in Pennsylvania regarding gun rights.

“To my knowledge there is no current Second Amendment rights being threatened by any current legislation happening in the House or the Senate that has any serious chance at moving forward,” Dallara said.

Commissioner Deb Baughman thanked the group for voicing its concerns.

Harnish said he doesn’t believe the state is considering any legislation like in Virginia, but said the ordinance sends a message.

“I don’t think we’re going to have it here, but you never know with that (Gov. Tom Wolf),” Harnish said.

Harnish noted that Bradford County has passed a resolution similar to the proposed ordinance.

“It don’t have the teeth this ordinance does, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. “It still sends the message that we’re trying to get out — we’re not going to give up our guns, period.”

Information on the petition for the proposed ordinance is available by calling Harnish at 652-9651 or at https://www.facebook.com/bedfordcounty2AS.

Contact Will DeShong at wdeshong@bedfordgazette.com; 623-1151, ext. 150.

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