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Amid strife, West Manheim Twp. adopts 'Second Amendment sanctuary' ordinance

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch
Manheim Township resident and veteran Dave Tushingham speaks in opposition to an ordinance that would make the township a second amendment sanctuary during a supervisor's meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020.

West Manheim Township supervisors voted Tuesday night to make the municipality a "Second Amendment sanctuary" during a standing-room-only meeting. 

The 4-1 vote comes a month after supervisors first voted to draft an ordinance that would declare the township's support of rights granted to gun owners under the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Supervisor Terry Rynearson was the lone vote against the ordinance.

"This is merely protecting our taxpayers to uphold their constitutional rights," said Jeremy Ault, the chairman of the board, after the vote. 

A standing room crowd fills the Manheim Township Municipal Building, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020, during a supervisor's meeting regarding an ordinance that would make the township a second amendment sanctuary. Bill Kalina photo

About 70 gun rights supporters and gun control advocates alike packed shoulder-to-shoulder at the West Manheim Township building, though supervisors were firm that the meeting would not be a space for a political rally or debate.

That didn't stop some from getting tempestuous — as a group of members from the pro-gun control group Moms Demand Action clashed with a Trump supporter who brought a large "Make America Great Again" sign — prior to the meeting's first gavel raps.

Throughout the meeting, several residents and nonresidents walked to the podium and addressed the township's board of supervisors. They included West Manheim resident Steve Musser, who called the ordinance a "reactionary, political action" stemming from recent "say-so" declarations from other states such as Virginia. 

Musser cited a recent example of gun violence from his own backyard, in which West Manheim resident Joshua John Wertz is charged with first-degree murder after police say he shot and killed his girlfriend, Nicole Cash, in the head with an AR-15 rifle while she was holding her baby.

"Ordinance 2020-1 does nothing to address the root problem of gun violence," Musser said. "West Manheim Township should be focusing on roads, housing and quality of life for its residents and not bring divisive, political actions to the local level — it's bad enough everywhere else."

Delegate hopeful Elam Stoltzfus talks with Alicia Rouscher of York City outside the Manheim Township Supervisor's meeting which considered an ordinance that would make the township a second amendment sanctuary during a supervisor's meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Rouscher is the York County 2nd Amendment Ordinance Coordinator. Stoltzfus was campaigning outside the meeting. Bill Kalina

Tom Long, a West Manheim resident and Navy veteran, said people who cause shootings aren't law-abiding citizens like most gun owners and instead are people who are grappling with other issues.

"Guns do not kill people. I can lay one here and it will never do anything, it will lay there and rust," Long said. "People kill people, end of story." 

Another proponent of the ordinance, the state director of Gun Owners of America, Val Finnell, commended the board of supervisors for standing in the gap by protecting the constitutional rights of their citizens. 

"I encourage you to make West Manheim Township a sanctuary for law-abiding gun owners," Finnell said. "If you do, people generations from now will applaud what you did here tonight, because you stood up for the constitutional rights of the people in this township."

Manheim Township resident and Navy veteran Tom Long speaks in favor of an ordinance that would make the township a second amendment sanctuary during a supervisor's meeting Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. Bill Kalina photo

More:Pennsylvania judge puts hold on state ‘ghost guns’ policy

More:Virginia rally by gun-rights activists ends peacefully

Officials stressed that the ordinance does not supersede state and federal law. Its aim is to declare the township's respect for gun owners' rights.  

"This is a prospective ordinance intended to indicate the board's intent with respect to the application of township finances and personnel moving forward in the event of future legislation,"  said Walter Tilley III, the township's solicitor, who drafted the ordinance.

Tilley added that officials ensured the ordinance was consistent with both the constitutional rights of the Second Amendment and obligations of the elected officials.

The Second Amendment sanctuary movement has gained popularity throughout the country in recent months. It has become an especially heated issue in Virginia following that state Legislature's recent consideration of a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons, reported The Associated Press. 

Some gun advocates in Pennsylvania worry similar restrictions could take hold here. Two of the state's top Democratic officials — Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro — have called for new gun restrictions in the wake of several mass shootings.

Ault said the perception and interpretation for the ordinance is misconstrued by some.

"A lot of you think that we're changing laws, while we are not changing any laws whatsoever," Ault said. 

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.