Has partisanship come to this? Didn’t it used to be a safe bet that law-enforcement personnel would enforce all laws, whether or not they personally agree with them? No longer—at least when it comes to guns.
As states have approved dozens of new restrictions and gun control measures since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last year, efforts to resist such laws have begun to gather strength around the nation as gun owners say their rights are being violated.
In several states, local sheriffs have refused to enforce newly enacted state gun laws with which they disagree, including (in Washington state) expanded background checks, a raised minimum age to buy semiautomatic rifles, a new waiting period, and safe storage of guns. In New Mexico, commissioners in 20 counties passed resolutions designating them Second Amendment “gun sanctuary” counties.
Is a right of such civil disobedience applicable to those charged with enforcing the law?
According to Klickitat County (WA) Sheriff Bob Songer, the new gun law violates gun owners’ rights. Is a sheriff the one to decide this, on his own?
There is no way in hell I’m going to be going after their guns if they are honest citizens. What I’ve told people is: I’m not giving up my guns, and I don’t expect them to give up theirs. [The state’s attorney general is] not the boss of the sheriff; the only bosses I have are the voters of Klickitat County.
Elsewhere, dozens of counties in Illinois have approved gun sanctuary resolutions meant to signal local discontent with gun control measures approved by the state legislature. None of this sits well with state executives. New Mexico’s governor has characterized resistant sheriffs of “going rogue.” Washington State is warning sheriffs that they could face legal action if they don’t run enhanced background checks approved by voters. The impasses between local sheriffs and elected officials in states now controlled by are raising the specter of a constitutional showdown over enforcement of the new gun laws. The standoff echoes some sentiment expressed by secessionist states at the time of the Civil War.
Victor Snover is the mayor of Aztec, N.M., a town shaken by a school shooting in 2017 in which a former student killed two students and himself. He is also a Democrat and a teacher at Aztec High School. He calls the new measures “common sense and reasonable.” He goes on,
Critics are calling these new laws Gestapo-style tactics when that’s the furthest thing from the truth. But unfortunately, we live in a hyperpartisan time when avoiding tragedies isn’t viewed as reasonable.
While more than a dozen sheriffs in Washington have said they will refuse to enforce the law, Bob Ferguson, the state’s attorney general, has warned that they have a legal responsibility to enforce the new law in the same manner as they are sworn to uphold other laws prohibiting criminal activity:
Local law enforcement officials are entitled to their opinions about the constitutionality of any law, but those personal views do not absolve us of our duty to enforce Washington laws and protect the public.