A letter to constituents from the county sheriff, declaring his jurisdiction a "Second Amendment sanctuary," is drawing praise from gun rights advocates and criticism from citizens who fear it sends the wrong message.
On Monday, Jan. 25, Sheriff Jason Chennault issued the statement, which mirrors a resolution made in Sequoyah County in early 2020.
“It is my intention, by making this declaration, to enforce our citizens’ right to bear arms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution,” Chennault wrote.
Chennault said one of CCSO's goals is to provide service and protection without infringing on the rights of those who choose to own firearms for protection or sport.
“This is my way of ensuring the people of Cherokee County who decide to own firearms for personal protection and sport, that I will do everything in my power to make sure their Second Amendment rights are not violated,” said Chennault.
Several local residents called the Daily Press after Chennault's letter made the rounds on social media. City Hall also reported a number of calls from people who worried the "sanctuary" status would invite the wrong kind of people into the area – such as those who engaged in the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C.
But District 27 District Attorney Jack Thorp said it’s relatively common to declare a county sanctuary, and he supports Chennault's action.
“Some counties are involving the commissioners, but the sanctuary aspect of it deals with law enforcement," Thorp said. "All he is saying is that he won't enforce any federal laws to confiscate firearms in violation of the Second Amendment, because it is about local law enforcement being used for federal gun confiscation."
District 2 County Commissioner Chris Jenkins and District 3 County Commissioner Clif Hall declined comment.
District 7 State Sen. Warren Hamilton, R-McCurtain, filed Senate Bill 631 for the current legislative session, and if it passes, all of Oklahoma will be a sanctuary for firearms owners, in case a federal seizure law is enacted. Hamilton’s district covers five counties among 31 of Oklahoma’s 77 to file similar resolutions. Chennault announced his support for the bill and is asking others to do the same.
Shannon Grimes, Cherokee County Libertarian Party chair, said he doesn’t see any reason for the public to be concerned about Chennault's action, or the state's.
“It is likely just a politically driven statement that will never have to be supported by action,” said Grimes. “Can you really see the sheriff telling the ATF or FBI ‘no’ if they wanted to take some federal action locally regarding firearms limitations?”
Retired Northeastern State University Professor Dr. John Yeutter, one of the leaders of the local Black Lives Matter movement, said he fully supports Chennault's intent to protect the rights of all. He did point out a bit of irony.
“We must remember that the first significant infringement of persons rights to carry arms began with Gov. Ronald Reagan and the Mulford Act of 1967, which had the intent of disarming concerned citizens patrolling Oakland neighborhoods. We should also remember that the NRA supported this gun control,” said Yeutter, who is a member of the Libertarian Party.
Reagan was a Republican. Chennault is registered with the Democratic Party.
Those who wish to carry firearms in public don’t have to have conceal carry permits, after a recent change in Oklahoma law.