So-called “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” are troubling attacks on gun safety laws across the country

In a backlash to newly passed gun violence prevention laws, gun rights extremists in localities across the country are declaring that state gun safety laws do not apply in their communities. Calling themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” some localities are going so far as to pass resolutions declaring that they will refuse to enforce gun laws and/or dedicate tax-funded resources to the implementation of state gun safety measures.

Listen to our Podcast Explainer
Gun laws save lives supreme court rally

Similar bills are also being passed at the state level in an attempt to nullify any federal gun safety laws passed under the Biden Administration. While these laws purport to protect residents, they instead interfere with the federal government's ability to enforce lawfully-enacted firearms regulations that have been upheld in courts as constitutional. Further, these bills threaten residents’ safety, as they have deterred state and local officials from reporting federal gun crimes to prosecutors.

Second Amendment sanctuaries are built entirely upon a fervent, yet inaccurate, belief that common-sense gun laws are unconstitutional. This movement is a clear backlash orchestrated by the gun lobby in response to important wins in gun reform. Over recent years, voters across the country have elected lawmakers committed to preventing gun violence by passing common-sense and evidence-based measures like universal background checks, safe storage laws, and extreme risk laws. The extremist gun rights advocates behind so-called Second Amendment Sanctuaries want to stop these laws before they can go into effect, and block their enforcement once they are in effect.

Gun safety scotus

Gun Safety Laws Do Not Infringe on the Second Amendment

Gun safety scotus

According to gun rights extremists pushing for these “sanctuaries,” common-sense gun safety laws infringe on their Second Amendment rights. But, the truth is that the Second Amendment is not under threat – and coordinated efforts to purposefully mislead the public and undermine the enforcement of public safety laws are dangerous.

The gun safety measures that are being denounced by many extreme gun rights advocates were passed by democratically elected legislatures and were signed into law by state governors. Many have been upheld as constitutional by courts across the country. The Supreme Court has explained that the Second Amendment – like many other constitutional rights – is not unlimited.



These laws are fueling fears and misunderstandings about gun safety laws — and state officials are calling them out. In Virginia, former Attorney General Mark Herring confirmed that many Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions being passed in localities throughout Virginia “have no legal effects,” and that the localities must follow gun violence prevention measures passed by the Virginia General Assembly. 

New Mexico officials have a similar response. The New Mexico Governor’s Office underscored that — despite arguments to the contrary by the gun lobby – the state’s new gun safety laws do not infringe on New Mexicans’ constitutional rights. And local governments and their law enforcement officials cannot categorically refuse to enforce the public safety laws that they swore to uphold based on an extremist ideology.



Second Amendment “Sanctuaries” Threaten Public Safety

“Sanctuary” laws claim gun safety laws are “unconstitutional” and “infringements” of Second Amendment rights, and are therefore null and void within a particular state’s or locality’s borders. Some of the bills are merely a symbolic declaration of intent to protect and defend Second Amendment rights. Legislatures cannot determine the constitutionality of laws — under our system of government, only our courts can decide that. 

However, some bills go further and declare that the government will not authorize or appropriate funds toward the enforcement of “unconstitutional” gun laws, and some even attempt to criminalize or impose penalties for state and/or local officials who enforce gun laws. While the FBI, ATF, and Department of Justice can still enforce federal law, bills that contain anti-enforcement provisions have chilled federal investigations and prosecutions by deterring local and state officials – who are often the first responders to gun crime – from cooperating with federal agents. 

These laws have had dangerous consequences. In 2021, Police Chief Danny Whiteley of Poplar Bluff, Missouri, shared with a reporter that after a man shot at his ex-girlfriend, Whiteley decided to not refer the crime to a federal prosecutor “because of the $50,000 fine” Missouri’s law threatens to impose on local law enforcement. Kacey Proctor, the local prosecutor in another Missouri locality, explained how state law made it more difficult to catch unknown assailants who have committed gun crimes. He recalled that while investigating a highway shooting, police decided not to send bullet casings to federal agents to determine whether the bullets matched any other crimes. And after a local Missouri police officer was killed in a shootout, Missouri state law enforcement initially refused routine federal assistance in tracing the murder weapon.

Kris va capitol

Second Amendment “Sanctuaries” Undermine the Will of the People

Kris va capitol

Though these “sanctuary” laws claim to be defending the federal Constitution, they are in fact violating it. Our Constitution safeguards our democracy with principles such as the separation of powers and checks and balances. When legislatures declare laws to be unconstitutional, they are subverting these principles. The Constitution also makes it clear that state laws cannot invalidate federal laws, and that federal laws trump inconsistent state laws.

The “sanctuary” laws also subvert the will of the people. Not only has the public voted for the officials lawfully enacting gun safety laws, the gun safety laws threatened by Second Amendment “sanctuary” bills enjoy overwhelming public support. Among these common-sense reforms are universal background checks, extreme risk laws, permit-to-purchase laws, assault weapons bans, and safe storage laws.

Indeed, courts considering Second Amendment “sanctuary” bills have struck them down. In Oregon, a state appellate court struck down two local Second Amendment “sanctuary” ordinances because they contradicted state law. And a federal judge in Missouri barred the enforcement of Missouri’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, finding that it was unconstitutional because it violated the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause. In 2023, the Supreme Court left that judge’s holding in place.

Where are Second Amendment “Sanctuaries” Appearing?

It is unfortunate, yet unsurprising, that the areas across the U.S. passing “sanctuary” laws are those that would benefit the most from gun safety laws, particularly with respect to suicide prevention. For example, Colorado has one of the highest suicide rates in the U.S., and half of the state’s suicides are carried out with a firearm. Yet, because of local “sanctuary” laws, Colorado sheriffs are refusing to enforce the state’s extreme risk law which is a proven tool to prevent gun suicides. Missouri’s state “sanctuary” law claims to block the enforcement of domestic violence-related firearm laws, yet the state has the second-highest rate of men killing women nationwide with over 80% of these women being killed with guns.

These examples illustrate how Second Amendment “sanctuaries” ultimately put constituents at risk and undermine the very oath sworn by law enforcement: To protect and serve the public.

Second Amendment sanctuaries are a coordinated effort supported by politically motivated, national groups. As of early 2024, about 2,000 counties and over a dozen states have passed bills declaring themselves as Second Amendment “sanctuaries,” and this number continues to rise.

While the reasoning for these resolutions varies, they are growing in rural and suburban areas alike. States with jurisdictions that have declared themselves as so-called “Second Amendment sanctuaries” include:

AlabamaNevadaNew Mexico
AlaskaIndianaNew York
ArizonaVermontNorth Carolina
CaliforniaOklahomaNorth Dakota
ColoradoSouth CarolinaOregon
GeorgiaLouisianaRhode Island
MaineNew JerseyWyoming

March for our lives rally to end gun violence

The Gun Lobby is behind the movement for Second Amendment sanctuaries

March for our lives rally to end gun violence

Brady revealed that the National Rifle Association (NRA) was pulling the strings behind Second Amendment “sanctuaries” in New Mexico. New Mexicans were among the wave of voters who elected a gun safety majority to their state legislature in the 2018 midterm elections. But when elected officials passed legislation to address New Mexico’s gun violence epidemic, the backlash was swift. Twenty-five counties passed Second Amendment sanctuary resolutions opposing the new laws.

We submitted public records requests to determine the source of this troubling effort, and we confirmed that the NRA was at the helm, closely coordinating with and influencing the New Mexico sheriffs' refusal to enforce gun safety legislation.

Read Our Report

By continuing to browse, you consent to the use of cookies on this site.