Sorry for the length, but I didn't have time to write a short blog.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Elected for Law

With the new gun laws on the books here in Colorado and with the hot air coming from Washington, a number of Sheriffs, including here in Colorado, have announced they will not enforce any gun restriction law. I get their point.  They believe in some cases that it is unconstitutional. This is despite the fact that during the original assault weapons  ban of the 90's,  there was not a single successful constitutional case mounted. Others believe that the new laws are going to be useless or a bandaid and knee jerk reaction to the situation. What concerns me more though is not the stance on gun safety laws.  Everyone has their point of view. What concerns me is that law officials are choosing what laws they will enforce.  This is not a prioritizing of the laws; this is a flat refusal to do the duty they were elected to do. The problem I have is that this is not about guns.  It is about law.

I am pretty sure that most sheriffs take an oath to uphold the law, the constitution of the state and the constitution of the United States.  I understand that they want to take a stand but refusal to do the job is not a stand.  What is more, if sheriffs can choose what laws they will enforce then what is to prevent them for interpreting laws or even adding to the laws?  Don't agree with the legalization of marijuana, then what is to prevent a sherrif from throwing someone in jail based on the old laws since he or she has decided that the new amendment is not something he or she can support?  I understand the worry about the new gun laws, but as one sheriff put it as he announced he will not enforce the new laws, he is no constitutional scholar.  Another law enforcement official pointed out that it is a sheriff and policeman's duty to enforce the law.  It is the court's duty to determine its validity.  If a sheriff truly cannot enforce the law, it is time to step down.  That would be a true way of taking a stand.  Current laws do not allow for the removal of a sheriff for failure to enforce, but he or she can face stiff fines from the state.  The ballot box is the only real way to remove a sheriff from office.

Think also of the possible cost.  Suppose someone is shot or hurt by a gun that violates the new laws.  Imagine the liability that the county and sheriff now face.  Any lawyer is going to make mincemeat of a sheriff who has announced he will not enforce the law.  The cost will come out of the pocket of not only the sheriff but from the county government as well because they didn't do anything about the sheriff's dereliction of duty.  There is also, I would guess, a chance that a sheriff who has refused to enforce the law could be held criminally negligent.

As I said, the sheriff;s stance on gun law is not what is at issue.  It is the same problem that I had with the Norquist Tax Pledge.  It is the promise, the oath that an elected official takes to not only the people who voted for him or her, but for all the citizens they represent.  No sheriff has the right to use his or her position to fail to do the duty we elected him or her to do.  A sheriff may hold any opinion they like, but that opinion does not override the will of people who may not agree with that sheriff.  In time voters and courts may speak to the laws that have been passed.  A sheriff is not the voters or the courts.  He or she is a representative of not the laws they would like but the laws that they have, and he or she is not the voice of the voters but one vote along with the rest of us.  They were elected to serve.