“Now if they’re going to tell the sheriff that he’s going to go around picking up guns from everybody, they’re going to have a problem,” America’s toughest sheriff told a radio station in Maricopa County. “I may not enforce that federal law.”
His comments reflect an unfounded fear among many gun owners that President Obama will try to confiscate their firearms, based on the president’s urgings for tougher laws in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre. Among the suggested measures, a proposed reinstatement of a ban on assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition has sparked the most backlash.
The federal assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 until 2004 put a stop to the manufacture of most semi-automatic weapons and high capacity magazines for sale to civilians, but did not impact firearms and accessories already in circulation.
Nevertheless, sheriffs across the country are joining Arpaio in staking out their opposition to the imaginary gun roundup. Law enforcement officials in Texas, Kansas, Oregon, Missouri, California and other states have decried potential new gun laws as attacks on Americans’ right to bear arms and vowed not to enforce them.
“On the same day the President is taking his oath to uphold the Constitution, he continues to attack our 2nd Amendment rights,” said Sheriff Michael Dixon in Osage County, Missouri. “As Osage County Sheriff, I also took an Oath to the Constitution; but unlike Obama, I intend to uphold mine.”
“Neither I, nor any of my deputies, will participate in the enforcement of laws that violate our precious constitutional rights, including our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms,” said Sheriff Terry Box of Collin County, Texas.
Note that in the United States, judgment on whether laws are constitutional is made in the court system, and ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, not by local law enforcement officials. In any case, any new assault weapons ban looks extremely unlikely to pass through Congress.
Battle for Supremacy
Sheriffs aren’t the only ones vowing to defy federal law — state lawmakers are also getting in on the fun. Arizona and other states are considering bills that would prohibit officials from following federal gun laws. Legislators Mississippi, Texas, Missouri, Tennessee, Wyoming, Utah, Alaska and South Carolina are also exploring ways to ban or pre-empt firearms laws. “Here’s a line in the sand: Thanks, but no thanks. Stay out with your federal regulations you’re going to impose on us,” said Arizona state Rep. Steve Smith. Under the proposed bill, federal judges and law enforcement could be put in prison for up to a year if they act to carry out federal law.
The state law would also create a paradox for federally-licensed gun dealers, who would be forced either to violate federal law, or violate state law in the act of complying with federal law, if they were to continue to operate their business. Even the National Rifle Association has spoken out against the measure because of the legal limbo it creates for dealers.
Should states actually pass any bills that actively defy federal law, they could have a problem on their hands. “The Constitution provides that duly enacted federal laws ‘shall be the supreme law of the land’— a provision known as the ‘Supremacy Clause’ — and thus states are powerless to nullify laws their lawmakers don’t feel like complying with or to arrest federal officials for carrying out their lawful duties,” writes Ian Millhiser, Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst for the Center for American Progress, calling the proposed state laws “wildly unconstitutional.” “This Clause applies both to valid Acts of Congress themselves and to properly authorized executive orders, as the President’s power to issue an executive order generally flows from an Act of Congress.”
Sheriff Joe and his counterparts remain defiant. “I said before, I’m going to arm all my deputies — a month ago I said before this — with automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons,” Arpaio said. “We’re going to be able to fight back … I don’t care what they say from Washington.”
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