Kenai Assembly passes Second Amendment ‘sanctuary’ ordinance

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly chamber (Photo from Kenai Peninsula Borough website)

The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly approved an ordinance Tuesday night that reaffirms its support for Americans’ right to bear arms.

The ordinance repeats some of the language from the Second Amendment to the federal Constitution, which protects Americans’ rights to keep and bear arms. Sponsored by Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce and Assemblymembers Jesse Bjorkman, Norm Blakeley and Kenn Carpenter, the main change in the ordinance is to declare the Kenai Peninsula Borough a “Second Amendment Sanctuary.”

That term comes from a national political movement by gun advocates pushing local governments to pass laws saying they won’t enforce state or federal gun laws, which gained significant attention in Virginia earlier this year. Lawmakers there placed new limits on handgun purchases, established a procedure to take firearms from people deemed a threat, allowed local governments to restrict firearms in public spaces, and expanded background checks for gun sales.

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Bjorkman said he wanted to see the ordinance passed as it was because of threats to the Second Amendment in the state. He didn’t specifically list any legislation, but one introduced in 2019—House Bill 62—would implement a “red flag law” in Alaska, allowing courts to issue temporary protective orders allowing firearms to be removed from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others.

Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce was a co-sponsor of the ordinance (Photo from Kenai Peninsula Borough)

“There are bills being filed that people would like to be passed that would remove a bit of due process, that would remove some people’s rights,” he said. “That’s a fact. As people see their Second Amendment rights being threatened, they want to take action, and they want folks to take action at all levels of government.”

Assemblymember Hal Smalley and assembly president Kelly Cooper both offered amendments hedging some of the vague language, particularly on what a “second amendment sanctuary” is. Smalley’s amendment was defeated, but Cooper’s ultimately passed, clarifying that the borough does not have police powers nor authority over the cities’ police departments nor authority to regulate firearms, and defining that the sanctuary means what is specifically outlined in the ordinance.

Smalley said he’s a lifelong hunter and supports the Second Amendment, but is bound to anyway as a public servant.

“I do not believe and I do not see where my Second Amendment rights are under any attack,” he said. “Our oath of office requires us to support and defend the Second Amendment rights. It’s required. The definition or the issue of a sanctuary city and looking at that which was sent out to us – we are not allowed to defy federal and state laws.”

Cooper said she is a gun owner as well but didn’t like the vagueness of the language, especially in line with the borough’s existing powers—the other examples of local governments that have passed these sanctuary laws have been cities and counties, many of which have their own police departments.

“I just think that it’s important that we and it’s responsible of us to clarify what our authority is,” she said. “Yes, we do support the Second Amendment. No, we do not have that authority. We need to make sure people in our communities understand that so we do not have misuse or misrepresentation of the language that we pass. So I would ask for your support, and I would also ask that we encourage firearm safety training.”

Written public comments were split, but the majority of comments given during the meeting Tuesday opposed the ordinance, with concerns about what would happen if the borough saw an increase in gun violence and wanted to take action. As a second-class borough, the Kenai Peninsula Borough doesn’t have police powers. A vote could change that, but voters have rejected the borough establishing police services before, such as in Nikiski in 2015. 

The amended ordinance states that the assembly will oppose any laws that would unconstitutionally restrict gun ownership and, within its powers, won’t use its resources to unlawfully restrict the ability to bear arms. The ordinance is uncodified, which means it’s not within the borough’s regular code of laws like planning, roads, et cetera. 

Alaska actually already has a law that exempts certain firearms and accessories from federal legislation—the Alaska Firearms Freedom Act, signed by former governor Sean Parnell in 2010 and updated in 2013. That law states that any firearms or accessories manufactured in the state and that stay in the state are exempt from federal regulation.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at eearl@kdll.org.

A line has been added to this story to clarify what Virginia’s gun laws did.