While declaring their support of the Second Amendment, Mt. Holly Springs officials stopped short of adopting an ordinance that would declare federal laws restricting gun ownership invalid within borough limits.
Council members Tuesday voted unanimously in favor of a resolution recognizing the right of local residents to purchase, own and possess firearms "free of unreasonable restraint and regulation."
The resolution also mentioned that the council recognizes the amendment as an essential right important to the founding of the country. Unlike an ordinance, a resolution is non-binding under the law.
Chris Rietmann, a borough resident, asked the council in April to adopt a Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance. Rather than take action, the council referred the ordinance to its legislative committee for review, Rietmann said.
Section 2A of the ordinance would have the council declare all federal acts, laws, orders, rules and regulations on gun ownership — past, present and future — in violation of the Second Amendment.
Had the council adopted the ordinance, it would have declared such laws to be invalid in the borough, not recognized by the borough and considered null and void of effect within borough limits.
Rietmann said another goal of the ordinance would be to forbid borough officials including the police from assisting the federal government in carrying out what he called “acts that deny local residents their Second Amendment rights.”
There have been a lot of attacks on the Constitution, particularly the Second Amendment, since the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Rietmann said.
“I believe that the Framers of the Constitution chose their words carefully and, for the most part, it has worked very well for us for the last 200-plus years,” Rietmann said. “I don’t believe you can legislate natural rights.”
The Framers of the Constitution were students of such philosophers as John Locke and St. Thomas Aquinas who professed that mankind has certain rights either granted by a creator or part of the human condition, Rietmann said. “These rights cannot be given or taken away by government. One of the rights is self-defense.”
Although the council went with a resolution instead of the draft ordinance, Rietmann said he appreciates that “they did take steps that were certainly positive.” He said the council did not offer any explanation during its Tuesday meeting.
“I will always support the Constitution,” Councilwoman Suzanne Cornman said Wednesday. She explained that Keith Brenneman, borough solicitor, had advised the council not to pass an ordinance on a matter that awaits a resolution before the federal courts.
Local vs. federal law
Brandon Lenoir, a visiting professor of political science at Dickinson College, called the resolution by borough council redundant and unnecessary. As public officials, council members take an oath of office to uphold the law as specified in the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions.
“We are a Federalist system,” Lenoir said. “The federal government establishes laws that are supreme across all states.”
State and local government only has the right and authority to step up a federal regulation or restriction, not roll it back, Lenoir said. “A local municipality cannot just thumb their nose at the federal government.”
Rietmann said the draft ordinance is based on sample legislation provided to him from the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC). The organization’s website describes TAC as “a national think tank that works to preserve and protect the principles of strictly limited government through information, education and activism.”
The Tenth Amendment reads “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Lenoir said the Tenth Amendment does not apply in this case because the Second Amendment and supporting case law makes gun control and gun ownership subject to the supremacy of the federal government.
Any attempt by a local municipality to adopt an ordinance contrary to that would be quickly struck down, Lenoir said. “You can not just pick and chose what laws and what constitutional amendment you want to follow.”
A common tactic
The aftermath of Sandy Hook is just the latest example of the tendency of the National Rifle Association and similar organizations to “circle the wagons” and fight to make sure additional restrictions on gun ownership are not put in place, Lenoir said. “This is similar to what took place after Columbine.”
Lenoir explained that whenever there is an incident of extreme gun violence, it generates a lot of media attention which, in turn, generates a lot of sympathy and a push by lawmakers to enact new laws and stepped-up oversight.
“What the NRA is trying to do is to push back on the sympathy and say ‘Let’s not jump to conclusions,’” Lenoir said. “The NRA is quick to get in front so that reactionary laws do not get put into place.”
A gun owner and member of the Harrisburg Liberty Alliance, Rietmann also plans to present the ordinance to the Cumberland County board of commissioners at an upcoming meeting. He offered to help others wishing to bring similar language before their local municipal government board for consideration.