Lawmakers in this rural corner of Tennessee near Knoxville passed an interesting resolution the other night, making Blount County a sanctuary.
Sanctuary municipalities are generally places where local law enforcement agencies decline to furnish information about undocumented immigrants to federal authorities. President Trump vehemently opposes such policies and has threatened action, such as withholding federal funds, to punish offending jurisdictions.
But what does the national debate over immigration have to do with the 125,000 residents of Blount County? Very little, actually. The resolution passed here makes Blount a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.” By a 15-4 vote, commissioners decreed that they will not tolerate new state or federal laws that affect gun ownership. Nearby Polk County passed a similar measure last month.
This comes at a time when many state and local governments are wrestling with sanctuary policies. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 30 states have bills pending relating to sanctuary statutes.
The Tennessee resolutions are largely symbolic, designed to make a political point. But what is the underlying message? Is it that states can undercut federal law? That cities and counties can undercut state law? And then, what? That neighborhood associations can refuse to obey town law?
The sanctuary movement is growing in America - although not always with the “sanctuary” label. Alabama might as well call itself a sanctuary for anti-abortion zealots after passing a law that bans virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.
You might say that Florida is a sanctuary, as one of several states providing a home to people who don’t care to pay state income tax. Nevada is a sanctuary for gamblers. Arizona is a sanctuary for those who don’t believe in Daylight Savings Time.
Nothing underscores the folly of sanctuary policies more than blue laws governing the sale of alcohol - and no state serves as a better example of this mishmash than Arkansas. The state put blue laws on its books in 1837 and basically repealed them in 1982. However, localities in Arkansas continue to make their own laws regulating alcohol.
Thirty-five of the state’s 75 counties prohibit the sale of alcohol. Yet, in eight of the 40 “wet” counties, individual towns, townships, wards or precincts have voted to outlaw alcohol sales. Thirty-three of the “wet” counties don’t allow liquor to be sold on Sunday. It’s not a sanctuary so much as it is a nonsensical mess.
When it comes to states’ rights, conservatives generally favor giving more power to state and local governments while liberals advocate stricter federal controls. With modern travel and technology serving to shrink our borders, and with commerce crisscrossing state lines, the conservative argument makes less sense than in the past. Yet, as sanctuary policies demonstrate, the movement to strengthen local controls is growing.
Oddly, 11 conservative states have banned sanctuary cities, with Florida about to become number 12. They are, in effect, outlawing the very concept they believe in - that is, returning more power to local government.
So, how will Republicans like Donald Trump react to little Blount County declaring itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary? Will they support the pro-gun movement, or oppose the sanctuary policy?
It seems that nowhere in America can you find sanctuary from partisan politics.
Peter Funt is a writer and speaker.