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The Roseau County Board has a message for the Legislature: Keep your hands off our guns.

All five commissioners voted this week to pass a resolution declaring the northwestern Minnesota county to be a "Second Amendment Dedicated County." The resolution states that they will not allow county funds to be used to restrict the constitutional rights of its citizens to keep and bear arms, and that they would sue, if necessary, to overturn any new laws that impinge upon the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Roseau County, which abuts Manitoba, is the first local government in Minnesota to join more than 400 counties nationwide that have passed what many call "Second Amendment sanctuary" resolutions. It's unlikely to be the last.

A committee with the Clearwater County Board met Friday to discuss a similar resolution, which will be on the full board's agenda Tuesday. Commissioners in Sherburne, Marshall, Bennington and Otter Tail counties also are weighing the issue.

Roseau County commissioners felt so strongly about the resolution that they voted for it without getting an opinion from County Attorney Kristy Kjos on whether it was legal or compromised the county in potential lawsuits.

Kjos said in an interview Friday that she neither supports nor opposes the resolution, but that she had asked commissioners to table the matter until after the Minnesota County Attorneys Association meets next Friday to discuss its potential consequences.

"I think the whole idea of this is to make a statement," Kjos said. "I don't think the board has any authority to tell the county sheriff what laws he can enforce."

The idea for the resolution came from Roseau resident James Whitlow. He met in early January with Kjos, Sheriff Steve Gust and Commissioners John Horner and Russell Walker to discuss whether the county wanted to pass a Second Amendment sanctuary resolution.

The term refers 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 have been introduced in Congress and the Minnesota Legislature to enable judges to restrict gun possession for people with volatile mental health problems. The movement grew in response to gun restrictions being prepared by Virginia's new Democratic-majority General Assembly.

"I felt Minnesota wasn't too far behind Virginia," Whitlow said in an interview Friday.

He said Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, accompanied him to the County Board meeting Jan. 7 and "told them what was going on in the Legislature with all the unconstitutional red flag laws that passed through the House last year and was shut down by the Senate." Fabian and Whitlow briefed commissioners on the so-called sanctuary resolutions being adopted around the country, but the sheriff resisted using that term because of its association with counties that refuse to help federal authorities round up undocumented immigrants.

Gust did not respond Friday to messages seeking comment.

Whitlow said the resolution adopted by the commissioners doesn't change current law.

"It just basically affirms the county commissioners' intent to abide by their oaths to protect the Constitution and preserve the citizens' right to a Second Amendment," he said. "They're not directing law enforcement, what laws they can and cannot enforce. But they are pretty much unified in saying we will oppose you with any legal means necessary to protect the rights of the citizens."

Horner said the responses to this week's vote have been "just overwhelmingly supportive. This is a remote kind of an area but everybody hunts. Everybody uses guns, always have. My parents basically lived off of game. It's a gun culture."

He said the board decided not to wait for an opinion from the Minnesota County Attorneys Association because the issue is clear.

"It's when things start to become twisted that you need lawyers," Horner said.

Horner said most of the support for gun control measures comes from urban areas.

"I think there are bad people that want control," he said. "Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that's what I want."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493