Many states around the country, like Virginia, have been making a push to implement stringent gun control measures that include, among other things, universal background checks, magazine capacity limits, and so-called “assault weapons” bans. These attempts to regulate firearms are nothing new, but the efforts to implement these sorts of laws and regulations has seemingly intensified in recent years.
In response to these intensified efforts to implement anti-gun, anti-freedom legislation by state governments, there has been a big movement to create “Second Amendment sanctuaries” in states and counties throughout the country. These Second Amendment sanctuaries are typically counties (or sometimes states) where there has been some kind of declaration or resolution that laws violating the Second Amendment will not be enforced. Virginia has been at the forefront of the Second Amendment sanctuary movement, where approximately 91 out of 95 counties have declared themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries. This sanctuary movement along with a recent rally in Richmond, Virginia, has added momentum to the Second Amendment sanctuary movement around the country, and sheriffs throughout Indiana are feeling pressure to respond.
In response to this pressure, there have been varying levels of commitment by sheriffs to protect individual rights, and it’s useful to evaluate the various responses. In the end, many sheriffs find themselves trying to strike a balance between “enforcing the law” and “protecting individual rights.” Let’s explore the various approaches sheriffs have taken, and you can decide which approach is best.
First, there is the approach taken by Sheriff Freeman from Jennings County, Indiana. In response to a bill written by Indiana State Senator Greg Taylor that included a provision banning gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds of ammo, Sheriff Freeman authored a resolution that declares Jennings County a sanctuary county, and mayors in the county signed the paper pledging support. Freeman said if his deputies were to stop someone who didn’t have a criminal background, who had a legal firearm that had a magazine deemed illegal by the proposed new law or any other, then that person would likely be told to go on his or her merry way.
Furthermore, Sheriff Freeman has said that he would not enforce any illegitimate law, which he calls an “Unlawful Act” and that these “Unlawful Acts” include:
any federal or state act, law, order, rule, or regulation which bans or effectively bans, registers or effectively registers, or limits the lawful use of firearms, firearm accessories, or ammunition (other than that which is already in place as of the date of adoption of this Resolution). Any such “Unlawful Act” is invalid in Jennings County; is specifically rejected by the voters of Jennings County; and shall be considered null, void, and of no effect in Jennings County…
Sheriff Freeman would not enforce the “law” because he considers this type of law a violation of our rights.
Another approach is one taken by Sheriff Goodin from Scott County, Indiana and also by Sheriff Robinson from Steuben County, Indiana. Each of these sheriffs published nearly identical statements that they called a “Proclamation.” Each statement can be seen here and here. Aside from the fact that these statements are nearly identical except in font style, there are a couple of interesting provisions in each “Proclamation.” The first is the provision that says:
BE IT FURTHER KNOWN, the Sheriff of Scott County, Indiana shall not enforce any law that has been determined by an appropriate court to violate either the Constitution of the United States of America or the Constitution of the State of Indiana…
This provision is essentially saying that the Sheriff of Scott County is not taking any position about the Constitutionality of any law. Rather, the Sheriff is deferring to an “appropriate court” to make a determination about the Constitutionality of a law. This is basically a non-statement, but it is important when read in conjunction with the following provision:
BE IT FURTHER KNOWN, the Sheriff of Scott County, Indiana guarantees the great people of Scott County, Indiana that the “Rule of Law” will be enforced and the ”rule of force, intimidation and fear will be diminished.”
These two provisions, read in conjunction, seem to indicate that the Sheriff of Scott County, Indiana will enforce the law, no matter what the law is, as long as no court has said it is unconstitutional. As you will notice, the “Proclamation” from the Scott County sheriff and the Steuben County sheriff are identical. It’s not clear who actually authored these proclamations, but they appear to have been authored with the intent to avoid taking a position on any specific law. For instance, would Sheriff Goodin or Sheriff Robinson enforce a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds if an “appropriate court” had not previously determined such a law to be unconstitutional? It seems clear that Sheriff Freeman would not enforce such a law, but Sheriff Goodin and Sheriff Robinson would enforce this type of gun control law.
But this begs another question – what is the role of your local sheriff? Should they simply “enforce the law,” protect your rights, or “keep the peace”?
Sheriff Mack, the former sheriff from Graham County, Arizona, draws a distinction that many sheriffs, unfortunately, don’t understand — the distinction between a “peace officer” and a “law enforcement officer.”
Mack explained that the role of the sheriff is not to “enforce the law,” but rather to “secure these rights” outlined in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is an important distinction and one that more sheriffs need to understand. Greg Ellifritz, police officer and well-known trainer, also makes this point on his blog, where he says that police officers should use the law as a tool to help us accomplish the goal of keeping the peace. Cops who mindlessly “enforce the law” may or may not accomplish the goal of “keeping the peace.” He goes on to say:
The best police officers in this country don’t act like mindless automatons. Cops who robotically enforce every law on the books seldom accomplish anything useful besides generating measurable statistics to please a supervisor. “Law Enforcement” shouldn’t be the goal of a good police officer. In fact most officers would be far better off if “enforcing the law” became a much lower priority in their day-to-day patrol activities.
In considering the significance of the various approaches that sheriffs may take, it is useful to consider that sanctuary counties and towns are passing resolutions, which typically indicate that no funding will be used to enforce unconstitutional laws. These are just resolutions, not ordinances, and have no force of law. The primary impact of these resolutions is not a legal one and is merely symbolic. Thus, the only real barrier between the citizens of a certain locality and an unconstitutional law is the local sheriff.
County sheriffs, practically speaking, are the last line of defense in the battle for rights. Federal agencies do not have state powers, and due to the U.S. Constitution’s structure of dual sovereignty, the feds have no authority to enforce state laws. Furthermore, based on the legal concept of anti-commandeering, states cannot be legally compelled to enforce federal laws. After your county sheriff, the only thing left protecting your rights is you and your loved ones. With that in mind, which kind of sheriff would you rather have on your side? Do you want one who simply enforces “the Rule of Law” or one who is serving the community to protect your rights and keep the peace?
Please remember, sanctuaries are a measure of last resort, and although we generally support the Second Amendment sanctuary movement, we are much better off playing offense rather than defense with respect to our rights. An offensive approach to securing our rights involves taking action to influence state and federal legislators to enact or rescind laws in order to create a positive environment for our rights. Perhaps more importantly, we need to also increase our efforts to make sure we elect local, state, and national representatives who are pro-freedom. Imagine if all of the folks involved in the Second Amendment sanctuary movement had been this involved in preventing state and local governments from becoming anti-gun in the first place.