State legislatures may pass laws tightening gun controls, but many sheriffs across the country are refusing to enforce them.
Some sheriffs accuse the laws of being too vague or violating the Second Amendment. In Colorado, for example, 55 out of 62 of the state’s elected sheriffs joined a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s new gun control laws, which mandate background checks for private gun sales and ban magazines that carry more than 15 rounds of ammunition, according to The New York Times.
In California, Siskiyou County Sheriff Jon E. Lopey said enforcing gun laws was not a priority for his office, adding that residents of his rural jurisdiction are also frustrated by U.S. Forest Service and Environmental Protection Agency regulations.
“Our way of life means nothing to these politicians, and our interests are not being promoted in the legislative halls of Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” he told the newspaper.
Lopey joined a delegation of sheriffs who met with Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, to ask him to veto legislation banning semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and lead ammunition for hunting. Brown vetoed the rifle bill but signed the ammunition bill.
In New York State, two sheriffs publicly said they would not enforce the state’s new gun control laws, some of the toughest in the nation, according to the Times. And in Florida, a jury acquitted a sheriff who was suspended and charged with misconduct after releasing a man arrested by a deputy for carrying a concealed firearm. The sheriff said he was protecting the man’s Second Amendment rights and was reinstated by the governor.
The Colorado laws in particular have become lightning rods for controversy this year. As Off The Grid News reported, two state senators who supported the legislation were recalled. A third resigned in the face of a recall election.
Some police chiefs and state officials support the laws, arguing they can be enforced, The Times said.
Eric Brown, a spokesman for Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said that with regard to background checks, “the numbers show the law is working.” He said that 3,445 background checks have been run on private gun sales since the law passed, with 70 people being denied permission to buy a firearm.
According to The Times, sheriffs around the country who refuse to enforce gun laws are in the minority, although it says there are no statistics to prove this. Even in Colorado, some sheriffs support the new gun laws.
“A lot of sheriffs are claiming the Constitution, saying that they’re not going to enforce this because they personally believe it violates the Second Amendment,” Sheriff Joe Pelle of Boulder County told the newspaper. “But that stance in and of itself violates the Constitution.”
Chaffee County Sheriff W. Pete Palmer said he felt duty-bound to enforce the new laws, although he will not make them high priorities for his office.
“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.
Sheriff Cooke, who is running for the State Senate in 2014, told the Times he was entitled to use discretion in enforcing laws, especially when he believes they are wrong or unenforceable. He said his oath requires him to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Colorado State Constitution.
“It doesn’t say I have to uphold every law passed by the Legislature,” he said.