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Newly elected Lake County Commissioner Josh Blake, center, is sworn into office Nov. 22, 2016, by his father, the Rev. John Blake, as his wife, Jackie Blake, looks on.
Newly elected Lake County Commissioner Josh Blake, center, is sworn into office Nov. 22, 2016, by his father, the Rev. John Blake, as his wife, Jackie Blake, looks on. (Jason Ruiter / Orlando Sentinel)

Lake County commissioners this week became the latest county in the U.S. — and the first in Florida — to declare they’re prepared to buck any new gun restrictions by becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary.

Commissioner Josh Blake, who proposed the resolution similar to dozens enacted by counties across the U.S., called it a response to mandatory gun buyback proposals by Democratic presidential candidates.

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“This draws a line in the sand,” Blake said. “It doesn’t mince words. And I hope it sends a message to what can be described as the authoritarian control freaks.”

But an official with the Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence called the resolution meaningless.

“I think it’s really just posturing by the gun lobby and their supporters,” said Andy Pelosi, the group’s co-chair. “It really doesn’t have any teeth.”

In making his pitch for the resolution Tuesday, Blake singled out Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman who folded his bid for president last week.

Former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaking in June in Miami.
Former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaking in June in Miami. (Joe Skipper/Getty Images North America/TNS)

In September, O’Rourke raised the ire of gun enthusiasts when during a debate among the Democratic hopefuls in Houston he said, “Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47."

Blake mentioned O’Rourke and two others still in the race for the Democratic nomination, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, for their support of mandatory buybacks of “assault weapons.”

Blake said the Democrats he named “see it as their job to forcibly disarm their fellow citizens, and with all due respect that simply won’t be happening in Lake County.”

The other three commissioners attending the meeting — Wendy Breeden, Sean Parks and Tim Sullivan — joined Blake in favor of the resolution. Commission Chairwoman Leslie Campione was absent but sent an email in support that was read by County Manager Jeff Cole.

Blake read into the record a letter from Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell, who wrote that he “fully” supports the sanctuary designation.

“He was excited about it and very glad to get on board with this,” said Blake, who was elected in 2016 after ousting longtime commissioner Welton Cadwell in the GOP primary and has filed papers to run for reelection next year.

Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks voted in favor of Lake becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary.
Lake County Commissioner Sean Parks voted in favor of Lake becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary. (Courtesy photo)

Commissioner Sean Parks pointed to a section in the resolution that he said stresses the importance of local government by stating “the last protectors of the U.S. Constitution are the County Sheriffs ..."

“This is not knee jerk," Parks said. "It’s a problem across the country, and it’s very concerning about what could happen in the future.”

The Second Amendment Sanctuary movement began last year in Effingham, Ill., when local officials maintained that several Illinois proposals dealing with gun ownership would be unconstitutional, according to a Chicago Tribune article published in April.

Sheriffs and prosecutors in Illinois voiced support for the cause and said they’ll use their discretion to leave new gun laws unenforced, according to the Tribune.

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Lake’s resolution states that the federal government “cannot compel law enforcement officers of the States to enforce federal laws as it would increase the power of the Federal government far beyond that which the Constitution intended.”

But Pelosi said the law is settled that there can be reasonable gun restrictions. He said the battle over “nullification,” the idea that local governments can nullify certain federal actions, could wind up in the courts.

“It could be setting up a fight for nullification down the road,” Pelosi said. “That’s possible.”

Grinnell said the fight over new gun laws likely would end up in court.

Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell sent a letter to county commissioners saying he "fully" supports the county becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary.
Lake County Sheriff Peyton Grinnell sent a letter to county commissioners saying he "fully" supports the county becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary. (Kayla O'Brien / Orlando Sentinel)

“Such restrictions would likely be challenged through litigation,” Grinnell wrote in a text. “If the Courts determine federal restrictions violate the US or Florida constitutional rights then we would not enforce an unconstitutional restriction.”

Lake County’s action prompted strong reaction on social media, on both sides of the issue.

One Facebook commenter, who identified herself as a gun owner, wrote, “The Second Amendment GUARANTEES your right to bear arms, but we’re gonna double-dog-dare you to try to take our guns.”

Most social media responses were glowing about commissioners’ action.

“Proud to represent the most pro-2A county in Florida,” state Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, posted on Facebook.

[email protected] or 407-420-5444

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