September 22, 2021

Jasper County becomes Iowa’s first gun sanctuary despite objections

Opponents say county is jumping the gun, supporters say fire away

Jasper County is now officially a “gun sanctuary” — the first in the state — which means it will not have the sheriff’s office nor other employees enforce federal or state laws that the board of supervisors believe infringe on the Second Amendment rights of its citizens in the unincorporated territories.

The Jasper County Board of Supervisors on July 13 voted 3-0 to approve the resolution, much to the dismay or to the delight of the roughly 30 or so citizens who attended the meeting. Several people spoke in favor of or in opposition to the all-Republican board’s proposal.

Originally presented last week, the resolution was delayed so residents could have more time to weigh-in on the topic. The county was also accused of trying to “backdoor” the legislation by introducing it on the agenda during a holiday weekend. Newton News published an article about the agenda item July 3.

Supporters and opponents of the resolution were given a little more than two minutes to share their arguments for or against the proposed gun sanctuary.

OPPONENTS SAY…

Many who voiced their opposition to the resolution criticized gun rights or gun culture as a whole. Max Tipton, of Newton, told supervisors he firmly believes there should be bans on all assault rifles, calling them military weapons. Hunters don’t need assault rifles “unless they’re a very bad shot,” he said.

“It’s outrageous that this government of ours — not only the county, the federal level — allow people to own guns that are used or made for war,” Tipton said. “… The idea of a sanctuary county, in my opinion, is unnecessary. I think it’s an effort by the National Rifle Association to get people scared.”

Specifically, that governments are going to take away citizens’ guns.

The Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), a lobbying group for the NRA, collaborated with the Iowa Firearms Coalition in 2020 to draft the resolution presented by Jasper County Supervisors. In fact, other than the exclusion of a quote from the U.S. Constitution, it is an exact copy.

Tipton went on to say whenever gun-related issues such as reasonable background checks come up, the NRA signals to its supporters that the government is going to take away guns. Tipton suggested no politician “worth their salt” will ever propose the government do such a thing.

“It’s just a scare tactic for the (NRA) to bring up their membership. The Republican Party always falls in line when the (NRA) yells,” Tipton said. “But the other side of it, when we have all these massacres around the country and school kids are massacred and people in church are massacred — you don’t hear a peep.”

Phil Ebert, of Lynnville, said he’s been a gun owner all his life and feels the gun culture is “crazy” and lamented the number of mass shootings that take place in the United States. The founding fathers, he added, had no idea there was going to be assault rifles and high-capacity magazines.

“And certainly I’m not against anybody having a gun, but there needs to be some kind of limitation on this stuff,” Ebert said.

Lori Eisbrener, of Newton, said she doesn’t see any evidence of anybody in Jasper County being denied the right to bear arms at this point. A gun sanctuary is “not necessary,” she added, and it’s “dangerous.” Eisbrener also said it allows the supervisors to tell citizens what the Constitution means.

“I looked in the Iowa Code to see if there’s anything that says you guys get to decide what the sheriff enforces as laws — I couldn’t find it. If you could point it out to me that would be great,” Eisbrener said. “There is a part in the Iowa Code that says that the county laws cannot be different than the state laws.”

Eisbrener also said the county shouldn’t be basing county policies on NRA lobbyists. As a mental health counselor, Eisbrener said she could go on for days about how guns affect the mental health of people in society. Again, she stressed the resolution is “unnecessary” and it’s an “overreach.”

Others said a gun sanctuary is sending a mixed message and could be opening up a can of worms, ultimately causing problems for the “good, law abiding citizens” of Jasper County.

Linda Wormley, of Newton, pointed out specific language in the resolution.

WHEREAS, legislation is currently being considered or expected to be proposed by the Federal Legislature and the Iowa State Legislature that potentially seeks to infringe on the constitutionally protected right of citizens to keep and bear arms.

“In other words, this is a preemptive measure. And if we act preemptively, we’re not going to see what the probable or possible side effects are later on,” she said. “It’s (Isaac) Newton’s law of physics: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. It’s more divisive than it is building consensus.”

If the state passes a law that Jasper County believes is unconstitutional, then the supervisors can take action, Wormley said. She also added there is no reason to waste time on this effort when other rural issues like improving internet access and finding solutions to secondary roads.

Scott DeVries, of Prairie City, also pointed out his problems with the language in the resolution. While the resolution acknowledges that each supervisor took an oath to support the U.S. Constitution and state laws, the resolution also attempts to circumvent both, he said.

“Specifically, you state in there that you are willing to become the judge and the jury as to which laws apply in Jasper County and which laws don’t apply,” DeVries said. “I’m concerned that this starts to create a precedent, not only in Jasper County. I’d be concerned that this is bigger.”

Although the resolution doesn’t literally say the county becomes the judge and jury, DeVries may be referring to this specific passage in the resolution:

WHEREAS, legislation of the Congress of the United States or of the Iowa General Assembly, or any other promulgated by the Federal or State of Iowa Executive that infringes upon the constitutionally protected natural right of the people of Jasper County to keep and bear arms shall not be enforced by any individual employed by the Jasper County Sheriff’s Office or any other employee of Jasper County.

DeVries also worried the supervisors’ action could make way for other counties in Iowa to think they’re above U.S. or state law.

Currently, Hardin County Supervisors are considering adopting a similar gun sanctuary resolution. Some years ago, Cedar County Sheriff Warren Wethington publicly said he would not help with unconstitutional federal gun laws, much like what Jasper County Supervisors are suggesting they do.

DeVries said, “It appears we’re attempting to say, ‘We took an oath to obey,’ but at the same time we’re now saying, ‘We don’t want to obey’ or ‘We’re creating a resolution that gives us the opportunity to not obey.’”

SUPPORTERS SAY…

Dan Thompson, of Newton, argued against Tipton’s previous point about assault weapons, saying an AR-15 is not a military weapon and never has been. Thompson also said the county needs to preemptively pass the resolution, because “it” is being discussed.

“We all know it’s being discussed,” Thompson said. “I mean, get our heads out of the sand and get ready. And I must tell you another thing: We have to be able to protect ourselves and our family. And if anyone infringes upon our constitutional right then it shouldn’t be allowed.”

Thompson said he had a weapon pulled on him when he was at an Interstate 80 rest area. A drunk person, he claimed, pulled out of a knife on a lady walking ahead of him and then came towards him. Thompson has kept a concealed weapons permit for 30 years.

“He found out he better have a different decision to do,” Thompson said. “He put his knife away, staggered. I called the police with his license number, description and everything. And that was the last I heard of that … You’re better off to have a weapon than to not have it.”

Thompson also incorrectly claimed crime is on the rise in Newton, suggesting the increase need for citizens to arm themselves. According to a presentation by Newton Police Chief Rob Burdess earlier this month, the calls for service, arrests and traffic stops are up, but some may be attributed to more staffing.

Burdess said the perception may be that crime is “off the wall,” but the reality is that’s not the case in Newton.

Theresa Dunnington-Meeker, of rural Jasper County, lamented that the Constitution “is no longer the default” decision, citing the “endless emergency declarations that suspended civil liberties indefinitely” during the pandemic this past year, which she said “curtailed our freedoms without an end in sight.”

Dunnington-Meeker added any action — however symbolic it may be — that can be taken must be take in defense of citizens’ “God given and natural rights to protect against increasing government overreach and federal tyranny against states.” She reminded attendees of the Iowa motto:

Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain.

Dunnington-Meeker argued red flag laws — which Jasper County Supervisor Brandon Talsma cited as part of the reason he introduced the resolution in the first place — ignores due process. She also said she’s grateful to live in Iowa and in a county that recognizes these increasing threats to rights and liberties.

“And is taking a stand proactively to guard the rights of citizens of Jasper County,” Dunnington-Meeker said. “I encourage the adoption of this resolution today and am grateful for our board of supervisors for recognizing this need preemptively.”

Brian Meeker, also of rural Jasper County, said the resolution is maintaining the rights of law abiding citizens in. Meeker then provided a history lesson about the Second Amendment, which had passed Congress in 1789, and proceeded to read passages from the document.

Micah Cope, who identified as a Jasper County resident, told supervisors he appreciated their support and protective of citizens’ right to keep and bear arms. The Second Amendment is a right that people are allowed, Cope added. He, too, claimed it as a “God-given” right. Some may not agree with it “(But) it’s still is a right and I expect our Jasper County Supervisors would support First Amendment rights the same as they support our Second Amendment rights,” he said. “… Just because you may not agree with it, you better support all liberties or you’re not going to end up with any of them.”

Jon Dunwell, of Newton, commended the Jasper County Board of Supervisors for broadcasting the meeting and giving citizens the opportunity for participating. He also thanked them for delaying the action for a week and allowing the community to discuss what the supervisors were proposing.

“This is not a gun rights issue, this is a rights issue. This is about limiting government,” Dunwell said. “As we look across our nation today we see a constant redefining of what those rights look like, and more and more of that be defined by government.”

Much like state and federal legislators, Dunwell said the supervisors have a responsibility to the Constitution and greatly appreciates and respects the board is taking that oath seriously. Dunwell said the board isn’t proposing to change gun laws, but merely saying they recognize fundamental rights.

“We see what’s happening to speech. We see what’s happening to religious freedom. We also hear a lot of rhetoric. And even the rhetoric today isn’t not rhetoric about this particular sanctuary county proposal, it’s more about whether we should have guns or not have guns,” Dunwell said.

SUPERVISORS SAY...

The arguments from both sides rarely touched on the resolution itself and on a few occasions degraded into a debate about gun issues, causing supervisors to cut in and put a stop to any back-and-forth between attendees or even between guests and themselves.

Before supervisors took action, Talsma was prompted by Jasper County Auditor Dennis Parrott to explain what the resolution does since many of the arguments were not “on subject.” Talsma said the county doesn’t have the authority to supersede state or federal laws.

“That’s not what this resolution is doing,” he said. “This resolution is clearly stating that Jasper County’s offices and sheriff’s department will not enforce those laws. The federal and state government can come down here themselves and enforce it, but then we will not.”

Talsma said the county is well within its right and authority to do so.

Last week, Talsma told Newton News what prompted the gun sanctuary resolution was a combination of statements made by President Joe Biden and certain Republican congressmen supporting red flag laws.

Typically, red flag laws permit police or family members to petition the courts and order temporary removal of firearms from people who might present a danger to themselves or others. Talsma argued these laws are “direct violation of due process” and citizens’ constitutional rights.

“I believe in being preemptive and not reactive,” Talsma said. “Everything that we do is typically as a nation is constantly be reactive and not proactive.”

Talsma used gravel roads issues as an example what happens when the county is constantly reacting. Now the county has “25 years of mess and neglect” to catch up on and is costing a lot more money as a result.

“Yes, Iowa’s state legislature is currently controlled by a ‘gun friendly’ party — let’s just put it that way. Doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be that way, and I for one … prefer to be proactive rather than reactive. And that’s what this resolution is about,” Talsma said.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com

Christopher Braunschweig

Reporter with a strong penchant for community journalism.