Associated Press

A Miami detective registers a Magnum .357 in a gun buyback event in this March 2016 photo.

The commissioners unanimously voted Thursday to declare Washington County a Second Amendment sanctuary county, a designation that several neighboring counties have also adopted recently.

The board passed the resolution with commission Chairwoman Diana Irey Vaughan voting with an “enthusiastic yes” and Commissioner Nick Sherman offering “resounding” support.

Irey Vaughan read the resolution “so the public knows exactly what we’re doing” that announced the county will protect Second Amendment rights and uphold both the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitutions that grant rights to gun owners.

The resolution also cited U.S. Supreme Court decisions in District of Columbia vs. Heller in 2008 and McDonald vs. City of Chicago in 2010 that clarified the scope of the Second Amendment and upheld the rights for gun owners.

“I’m so proud of us getting to the essence of the Constitution and what our founding fathers meant for us to do and how we’re led to govern people,” Sherman said. “I couldn’t be more supportive of this bill, and it’s long overdue.”

Chris Bendik, who owns CB Firearms on Route 88 in Union Township, applauded the decision and said he hopes it will cement gun rights for area residents.

“I think it sends a pretty strong message that people are starting to take a stance for what’s rightfully theirs,” Bendick said. “We’re seeing this more and more across the country with states and counties declaring themselves sanctuaries. I think it sends a clear message that the Second Amendment community is not going to lose this battle.”

Washington County’s designation comes a month after the Greene County commissioners voted on a similar resolution, while Fayette County adopted a Second Amendment ordinance early last year. Bendick is happy to see those designations in Western Pennsylvania, including his home county.

“I think it’s great,” Bendick said. “It’s a small step toward the way it should be. Second Amendment rights don’t just apply to muskets or cannons anymore.”

Six other counties in Pennsylvania have voted on similar resolutions, according to Cease Fire PA, an organization that monitors gun violence in Pennsylvania.

Adam Garber, executive director for Cease Fire PA, called such resolutions “ceremonial” since they hold no legal weight, while ordinances are typically struck down by the courts when challenged.

“I think from their perspective, they see it as a way to give local law enforcement permission to ignore federal or state laws involving gun violence that they find unconstitutional,” Garber said. “The reality, these efforts have no force of law and are unenforceable, and they create confusion for law enforcement and residents that could put lives at risk. They don’t make people safer.”

The increase in Second Amendment sanctuary designations comes as gun sales soared in 2020 before the presidential election. About 1.5 million firearms were sold in Pennsylvania last year, and the state police performed a record 406,151 instant checks in July, August and September, the most during any quarter since the program began in 1998.

Bendick expects gun sales to continue to be strong this year.

“I think gun sale numbers will continue to go up,” he said. “Last year was a record with gun sales and new gun ownership. But I think that’s just going to keep increasing. It’s just a matter with availability whether manufacturers can keep up with demand.”

That worries Garber and his group, who thinks there is unwarranted backlash from President Joe Biden’s victory in November.

“I think the fear comes from the belief that the Biden Administration and Congress may try to seize people’s firearms, even though they said that’s not what they’re going to do,” Garber said of the uptick in firearm sales and sanctuary designations.

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