In the days and weeks after certain state legislatures, Congressional Democrats, and Barack Obama announced sweeping new gun control proposals, a backlash began at the grassroots level not only among citizens but among law enforcement officials who form the last line of defense against federal overreach — the county sheriffs.
One by one the sheriffs in Oregon, Kentucky, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, and many other states came forward to announce they would not enforce any new law that infringes on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, or any other Constitutional provision.
Not only did individual sheriffs assert their clearly-designated authority as the only law enforcement officials who are elected by the people within their jurisdictions but so did some of the major county sheriffs associations in the country. The Utah Sheriffs Association, for example, wrote a strongly worded letter to Obama declaring they would not allow any federal official to strip their constituents of their Constitutional rights.
Similarly, the County Sheriffs of Colorado, which represents the state’s 64 county sheriffs, published a position paper in which it went on the record to oppose gun control, including opposition to assault weapons bans and limits on magazine capacity, as well as opposition to any registration or state-wide database of gun owners.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of such an understanding of the role of the Feds vs. local elected law enforcement in a landmark case, Mack/Printz vs. USA. The Court ruled that the states and their “political subdivisions” are not subject to federal direction. The case was brought by two county sheriffs who wished to challenge some of the provisions of the Brady gun control bill of 1986. The Court ruled in favor of the sheriffs and declared that the Feds are limited in how far they can go in enforcing laws within the various jurisdictions of the county sheriffs.
Melinda Pillsbury Foster provides a thorough examination of the Court ruling and the issues inherent to it in a treatise published in 2008.
Collectivists and other liberals who strongly support an “evolving understanding” of the Constitution, and are thus quick to embrace limits on individual rights, are very aware of the power of the county sheriffs, even before the latest war of words between Washington and the sheriffs over gun control. Last year the Attorney General of the state of Delaware stripped the state’s county sheriffs of their arrest powers. And there is a growing movement among progressives and Democrats to roll back the authority of the sheriffs.
The answer is not far to find. The collectivist authoritarians are all-too-aware of the power of the sheriffs and the threat they represent to federal authority and police agencies that are not accountable to nor elected by the people. Thus, in order to advance their agenda, the collectivists must remove the roadblocks represented by the sheriffs.
The actions of the Delaware Attorney General, therefore, are unconstitutional due to their blatant disregard for the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states unequivocally that the powers that are not specifically enumerated as pertaining to the federal government are reserved to the states, or to the people. No Constitutional provision gives the federal government the authority to override, limit, or nullify the power of the county sheriffs when it comes to law enforcement issues.
But the 10th Amendment itself contains limits on its own provisions. States are not empowered to do whatever they wish. Rather, as long as individual rights are recognized, respected, and protected, the states have significant power that is at least equal to that of the federal government, and even more so. However, that power is also limited at the state level in that the 10th Amendment states that the powers not specifically enumerated as pertaining to the Feds are left to the states, or to the people. That is, the people themselves, the citizens, are the ultimate authority in a free society. Any state or federal entity that infringes on the authority of the individual citizen as a free moral agent is breaking the law.
Thus, a state Attorney General cannot by edict remove the power and authority of a county sheriff. Only the people, the citizens, can decide such issues. And most if not all states in their state constitutions clearly spell out the authority endowed by the citizens of the various county sheriffs within that state.
To be sure, the Feds are empowered to enforce laws in all of the states provided those laws are specifically enumerated in the Constitution as applicable to the entire country, such as the First Amendment, the Second Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, and the other specific provisions of the Constitution. But the degree to which the Feds can involve themselves at the local level is dependent on the willingness of the county sheriffs to cooperate. The sheriffs themselves are ultimately responsible for enforcing the laws of their local jurisdictions and states, as well as all applicable laws at the federal level. The Feds do not have the Constitutional authority to insert themselves or meddle in the local level if the county sheriff has made it clear that their help is not wanted or needed.
The Framers of the Constitution saw this constant tension between local and federal authority as an important check and balance, making it more unlikely that tyranny would creep into the nation via an out of control, unaccountable federal authority.
NOTICE. You may enjoy my blog and its ongoing series, “Musings After Midnight.” The following are a few examples:
My latest blog entry in the series, Musings After Midnight, is now available at The Liberty Sphere. It’s titled, “I get a vote, you get a vote, all God’s children get a vote! That’s right, Mr. President, and that includes gun rights activists!”
You may also like “‘I Shall Not Be Moved:’ the bold declaration of patriots who have no intention of obeying unconstitutional laws.”
Also check out: “I’ll see you in the war — Civil War II: Notes on the coming calamity to restore the Constitution.”
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