Sheriffs across US drawing on right-wing fringe ideas to decide which laws to enforce
Sheriffs are increasingly refusing to enforce gun laws they have determined to be unconstitutional, reported News 21.
Although the U.S. Constitution does not mention sheriffs, the position is listed in state constitutions – and most of the nation’s 3,080 sheriffs are elected, and not appointed like state and city police officials.
The anti-government “Posse Comitatus” movement, which gave birth to sovereign citizens, believes government is illegitimate above the county, so county sheriffs are the highest legal authority in the U.S.
Right-wing groups such as the Oath Keepers and the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association have repackaged some of these ideas, while downplaying the Posse Comitatus movement’s overtly racist and anti-Semitic elements.
“I made a vow and a commitment that, as long as I’m the sheriff of this county, I will not allow the federal government to come in here and strip my law-abiding citizens of the right to bear arms,” said Sheriff Mike Lewis, of Wicomico County, Maryland. “If they attempt to do that it will be an all-out civil war, because I will stand toe-to-toe with my people.”
Lewis, who is running for re-election this year, said sheriffs are duty-bound to resist what he believes is an encroachment by the federal government of Americans’ rights.
“State police and highway patrol get their orders from the governor,” Lewis said. “I get my orders from the citizens in this county.”
He’s certainly not alone in his interpretation of his job and its authority.
“The role of a sheriff is to be the interposer between the law and the citizen,” said Don Dwyer, a Republican member of Maryland’s House of Delegates. “He should stand between the government and citizen in every issue pertaining to the law.”
CSPOA claimed last month to have a growing list of 484 sheriffs who opposed federal gun control laws, and the Oath Keepers organization has an estimated 40,000 members and active chapters in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
A handful of New York’s 62 sheriffs have vowed not to enforce the state’s SAFE Act, which outlawed magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, broadened the definition of banned assault weapons, and stiffens penalties for killing first responders in the line of duty.
“If you have an (assault) weapon, which under the SAFE Act is considered illegal, I don’t look at it as being illegal just because someone said it was,” said Sheriff Tony Desmond (pictured above), of Schoharie County, New York.
A top official with the state’s Oath Keepers group encouraged sheriffs to disobey the SAFE Act to fight against tyranny.
“You need to understand that our socialist governor and our president and his fellow travelers are sending you into this conflict against honorable men and women who simply will not submit to a tyrannical lust for power by the political incompetence,” said John Wallace, vice president of New York’s Oath Keepers.
Desmond is not a member of CSPOA or Oath Keepers because he fears being perceived as an anti-government radical.
“I don’t want to get involved with somebody that may be a bit more proactive when it comes to the SAFE Act,” Desmond said. “I want to have the image that I protect gun owners, but I’m not fanatical about it.”
Richard Mack, a former Arizona sheriff with ties to the Posse Comitatus movement and scofflaw rancher Cliven Bundy, said those concerns have likely held back growth of the CSPOA movement he founded.
“This is such a new idea for so many sheriffs that it’s hard for them to swallow it,” Mack said. “They’ve fallen into the brainwashing and the mainstream ideas that you just have to go after the drug dealers and the DUIs and serve court papers — and that the federal government is the supreme law of the land.”
A federal court rejected a suit filed by eight Colorado sheriffs who challenged 2013 state laws banning magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and established background checks for private gun sales.
The sheriffs sued as private citizens after a federal judge rejected a suit filed by 55 of the state’s 62 sheriffs, finding they could not sue as elected officials.
A federal court threw out their suit filed as private citizens, but the sheriffs are planning an appeal.
“It’s not (the judge’s) job to tell me what I can and can’t enforce,” said Sheriff John Cooke, of Weld County, Colorado. “I’m still the one that has to say, where do I put my priorities and resources, and it’s not going to be there.”
Watch this video report posted online by NBC News: