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Several leading Republican lawmakers in Minnesota are asking officials in Sherburne County to "provide leadership" on gun rights by designating their central Minnesota county the state's first "Second Amendment sanctuary."

A letter to the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners on Monday, signed by Rep. Shane Mekeland, R-Clear Lake, and five other lawmakers, cited "Anti-Second Amendment legislation" making headlines around the country.

"With this backdrop, we respectfully urge the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners to adopt language that would make its jurisdiction a Second Amendment sanctuary county," they wrote. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, was among three Republican House members and three GOP senators who signed the letter.

All six represent districts in Sherburne County, which runs from Elk River to St. Cloud, northwest of the Twin Cities.

Second Amendment sanctuaries refer to states, counties, or localities that have adopted laws or resolutions designed to impede enforcement of gun control measures that pro-gun activists deem contrary to the Second Amendment. Targets often include expanded gun background checks and "red flag" laws that Democrats have introduced in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature.

Mekeland's letter came as Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate rolled out a package of pro-gun measures at a public hearing Tuesday in Hibbing. The new proposals, being readied for the upcoming session of the Legislature, include measures to carry firearms without a permit and protect gun owners who fire in self-defense.

The letter also came on the same day that thousands of armed gun rights activists from around the nation descended on Richmond, Va., to protest new gun restrictions being prepared by Virginia's new Democratic-majority General Assembly.

Republican lawmakers pressing for a gun sanctuary in Sherburne County are relying on a draft resolution supplied by the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus. The County Board met on Tuesday but did not take up the draft.

"Generally speaking, the one comment they made was that they've already taken and sworn an oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and all of its amendments," said Sherburne County Administrator Bruce Messelt.

The GOP push in Minnesota stands in sharp contrast to DFL plans to expand criminal background checks and institute "red flag" laws that would allow judges to temporarily remove guns from people deemed dangerous to themselves and others.

DFL Gov. Tim Walz dismissed the sanctuary proposal as "just another step in that battle against common sense, just reasonable, safety precautions that we put in place."

Lawmakers who fought pre-emption bills at the Capitol, such as cities' minimum wage laws, are now pushing their own measures that would create a patchwork of laws in different communities, Walz added.

"Now we're seeing a patchwork quilt apparently around refugee resettlement, a patchwork quilt around whether they are going to follow the laws as they're written on this common sense firearms issue," he said.

Both sides have vowed to make gun legislation an election issue in November, when all 201 seats in the Minnesota House and Senate are up for grabs. State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, who is sponsoring the Senate background check and red flag bills, views the sanctuary proposal as the latest attempt to elevate the gun debate as a 2020 election priority.

"It will be [an issue]," Latz said. "But our goal is to enact legislation. We are getting more and more traction among voters who are making it a high priority."

Mekeland's letter noted that 400 counties around the country have adopted Second Amendment sanctuary laws or resolutions in opposition to broader state or federal gun restrictions. The effort reflects a nationwide movement that has spread in recent years in reaction to calls for gun restrictions to stem the tide of mass shootings and other forms of gun violence. To date, no other Minnesota jurisdictions have declared themselves gun "sanctuaries."

Joining Mekeland and Daudt in the letter was Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton. Republican Sens. Mary Kiffmeyer, of Big Lake, Michelle Benson, of Ham Lake, and Andrew Mathews, of Princeton, also signed the letter alongside Paul Novotny, a 30-year veteran of the Sherburne County Sheriff's Office and GOP candidate for the District 30A seat opened up by former Rep. Nick Zerwas' retirement from the Legislature.

Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755 Twitter: @smontemayor