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Is St. Louis County next stop for gun sanctuary?

As a pro-gun rights group presses the County Board to adopt a measure, commissioners wonder how much symbolism is too much.

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JoAnne Max takes aim at a gun range target. She shoots competitively at the Itasca Gun Club and Hibbing Rifle and Pistol Range, and is leading an effort to bring dedicated Second Amendment status to St. Louis County. Opponents call it a symbolic, but unnecessary gesture. (Submitted photo)

JoAnne Max is an example of the multitasking going on in today’s rapidly changing world. By profession, she’s a registered nurse in long-term health, working with a population that is high-risk in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A number of us still have to get up and go to work every day to make sure things don’t fall apart,” she said, fortunate and happy to do her part.

But in her time to herself and family, Max competes in firing range sports such as action pistol and three-gun competitions that have since been canceled as the pandemic closes ranges, including her home range in Hibbing on Friday. So lately, her love for shooting and guns has taken Max, of Hibbing, into the political realm.

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JoAnne Max, of Hibbing, seen from her deer stand, is leading an effort to bring dedicated Second Amendment status to St. Louis County. (Submitted photo)

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As a member of the National Rifle Association, certified instructor and firing range safety officer, she’s building support locally for a bid to make St. Louis County a Second Amendment sanctuary county, one that would reinforce the constitutional version of the right to bear arms.

“If we don’t start speaking up, things will be taken for granted and we are going to get infringed upon,” she said. “It is not a small population of people that are going to be affected.”

To date, nine counties in the state have adopted the resolution being brought to them by Max and others. She met with St. Louis County Board Chair Mike Jugovich at his Iron Range office last week.

“It’s similar to the refugee resettlement,” he said, citing that political hot potato , “because there’s nothing really St. Louis County is going to do differently. The laws are in place.”

Commissioner Patrick Boyle received enough emails about it that he sought the opinion of the County Attorney Mark Rubin.

“It doesn’t really have any teeth at all,” Boyle said.

In February, Mankato Free Press managing editor Joe Spear wrote in an opinion piece that the sanctuary resolutions “should be rejected by counties far and wide,” calling it a stunt.

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But Max and proponents are using her St. Louis County Facebook group to argue the merits of the maneuver.

“It’s not radical, militia-types,” she said of her growing coalition. “It’s the same people with hunting shacks and family traditions for generations.”

Max argued that a resolution dedicated to the Second Amendment would allow counties to keep from allocating funds, enforcing or even prosecuting cases related to future gun reform measures that may come down from the state or even federal level, she said. Of course, counties wouldn't inhibit state or federal authorities from doing their jobs either, she added.

She compared it to how whole states are usurping federal law when it comes to legalizing marijuana. Collectively, she added, sanctuary counties would have the legal might to challenge gun reform measures in the courts.

“Red flag laws, universal background checks, there are a large number of different laws constantly being proposed,” Max said. “It’s not just one specific law, it’s anything that infringes on our rights as gun owners.”

One of the features of the movement to on-board sanctuary counties is how the resolution counties are being asked to adopt comes downloaded with language written by the gun advocates — and not county staff or administration, as is typically the case.

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JoAnne Max takes aim at a gun range target. She shoots competitively at the Itasca Gun Club and Hibbing Rifle and Pistol Range. (Submitted photo)

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In fact, the organization behind the statewide organizing effort, Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, won’t count Chisago County among the ranks to have adopted sanctuary status, because its commissioners approved the resolution but removed two pieces key to the movement: commitments to not use county tax dollars on enforcement or education of new gun measures, and to support court actions to defend the right to bear arms.

“That’s a difficult commitment for county commissioners to make,” Rob Doar, vice president and political director for Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said in a live-stream video shared on Max’s group page. “They have to put their necks out a little bit and say, ‘No, we are willing to go to bat for this.’ ”

The organizing pulse has coursed through most of the Northland by this point, with boards in Carlton and Itasca counties being pressed to add the item to their agendas.

In St. Louis County, that doesn’t seem forthcoming.

“This type of stuff belongs in St. Paul and the federal government,” Boyle said.

Jugovich says he owns a permit to carry a handgun, has a copy of the Second Amendment on the wall in his office and took an oath to the U.S. Constitution when he became a commissioner. He wasn’t inclined to take it further than that.

“If we’re going to start taking symbolic votes, they’re going to be up here all the time,” he said. “The Second Amendment people aren’t going to be happy.”

Max seemed to think she still had a path to the agenda. It’s unclear if another commissioner would take it that far.

“I corrected him very quickly,” she said of Jugovich. “I don’t feel like it’s symbolic. You would be standing up to say, 'No,' you don’t intend to enforce this.”

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