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Colorado Sheriffs, Gun Control, and the Rule of Law

By       Message Thomas Magstadt       (Page 1 of 2 pages)     Permalink

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A county sheriff in Greeley was recently featured in a New York Times article focusing on a particularly vexing problem in political philosophy and law enforcement, namely what can be done when officers of the law choose not to enforce a law they don't like.   It's a version of the old fox-guarding-the-hen-house scenario.  

From http://www.flickr.com/photos/10787737@N02/8993130231/: Motorist having a bad day... April 25, 2013
Motorist having a bad day... April 25, 2013
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The Times article reports that "Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County explains in speeches why he is not enforcing the state's new gun laws" by holding up "two 30-round magazines".   He tells audiences "maybe" he purchased one after the new law banning bigger than 15-round clips went into effect but who knows which one?  

He argues that the law is unenforceable, but that's not really why he's on a personal crusade.   The fact is, he doesn't like the law, and he's got lots of company in serried ranks.   Last May, all but seven of the 62 elected sheriffs in Colorado joined a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statutes.

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A lot of Colorado voters, especially outside of Denver, are opposed to tighter gun controls, too.  

People have a right to their opinions.   Sheriffs are people.   The question is whether sheriffs have a right to act on their opinions by not enforcing laws they don't like.

Correct answer:   No.

Colorado is not alone.   Sheriffs in New York, Florida, Arizona, and California have also challenged tighter gun laws.   There's no reason to believe many sheriffs, especially in the red states of the Midwest, Far West, and Deep South, are not in sympathy.

In Arizona, a state legislator named Brenda Barton has joined former county sheriff Richard Mack in urging "Constitutional Sheriffs" to defy the federal government.   They believe county sheriffs are the highest law of the land with the power to nullify federal law "and even arrest federal authorities".  

Since the Newtown massacre a year ago, some 1,500 state gun bills have been introduced across the country, 178 passed at least one chamber of a state legislature, and 109 have become law, according to a new database.   Nearly two-thirds of the new laws (70) actually ease restrictions and expand the rights of gun owners.   With few exceptions, these laws were passed in states where the Republican party controls the legislature and governorship. Most of the 39 bills that tighten regulations were passed in states where Democrats are firmly in control.  

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But that's not a slam-dunk either, as two members of the Colorado Senate who voted for stricter gun control found out when they lost in recall elections last September.   (A third senator facing recall resigned her seat in November to avoid a similar fate.)   This, despite the fact that the Governor is a Democrat and both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly have Democratic majorities.

Message: vote against guns in Colorado and put a target on your back.


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Tom Magstadt earned his doctorate in international relations at Johns Hopkins (SAIS). He is a twice-tenured college professor and political science chair. He also served as a foreign intelligence analyst, a Visiting Professor at the Air University (more...)

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