President Obama meets with representatives from the Major Cities Chiefs Association and Major Counties Sheriffs Association to discuss the Administration's plans to reduce gun violence in America at the White House on Monday. / Getty Images
Dozens of sheriffs across the country are questioning the constitutionality of President Obama's gun-control initiatives and are even suggesting that they would not allow federal officials to enforce laws they deem a violation of the Second Amendment.
Many have written letters to President Obama, posted on Facebook and granted interviews stating that message. Richard Mack, a gun rights advocate and former Arizona sheriff who now lives in Texas, is urging the defiance and says he has compiled a list of more than 200 sheriffs who have come out against further gun restrictions. There are 3,079 sheriffs in the USA, according to the National Sheriffs' Association.
In Utah, 28 of the state's 29 sheriffs signed a Jan. 17 letter to Obama saying it is "foolish and prejudiced" to "demonize firearms," and that "malevolent souls" were to blame for shootings like the one that killed 26 children and staff at a school in Newtown, Conn., in December.
"We respect the office of the President of the United States," the letter says. "But make no mistake, as the duly-elected sheriffs of our respective counties, we will enforce the rights guaranteed to our citizens by the Constitution. No federal officials will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights - in particular Amendment II - has given them."
The letter concludes: "We, like you, swore a solemn oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and we are prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation."
The letter does not specify what, if anything, Obama has proposed that the Utah sheriffs think might violate the Second Amendment. The president has laid out a plan that includes strengthening background checks of gun purchasers, limiting the size of ammunition magazines, and banning assault weapons.
In Colorado, Garfield County Sheriff Lou Vallario made public a two-page letter that says, in part, "my right to own a so-called assault weapon (even though nobody can define what it is) ... for whatever legal reason I choose is nobody's business, especially the government's." He said he took an oath to defend the Constitutions of the U.S. and Colorado, "not to be a part of destroying them."
But Arapahoe (Colo.) Sheriff Grayson Robinson, also in a publicly released letter, wrote that "public safety professionals serving in the executive branch, do not have the constitutional authority, responsibility, and in most cases, the credentials to determine the constitutionality of any issue."
Mack, who was a co-petitioner of a successful Supreme Court challenge to parts of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in the 1990s, said he believes the resisting sheriffs are "America's last hope" against "an out-of-control federal government." In 1997, the court ruled by a 5-4 vote that local law enforcement officers were not constitutionally required to temporarily conduct background checks as the federal system was being ramped up.
Mack said "the Constitution sometimes protects us from our own best intentions." He says Obama's proposals may be "good intentions and maybe even some good ideas, but it is not constitutionally allowed."
Mark Potok, of the civil rights group Southern Poverty Law Center, says that lawsuit made Mack a hero in the anti-government militia movement, and that Mack is a "conspiracy theorist" who believes the government is out to seize guns.
Mack says he believes Obama's gun proposals amount to "stealing authority that is not constitutionally given."
Obama's actions since Newtown are "a conspiracy theorist's dream," Potok says. "Just a couple of months ago the whole idea that Obama was going to crack down on guns" was a conspiracy theory. .... The reality is there was no plan. But Newtown forced the administration's hand in an obvious way."
Potok says that some local officials tried to defy federal law during the civil rights movement, and "that didn't work out so well."
After the Utah sheriffs sent their letter, Utah Gov. Gary Hebert said the state would follow federal gun laws, and that "if we have laws that are passed that are unconstitutional ... we need to fight that in court and change the law."
Larry Amerson, the president of the National Sheriff's Association, said he is aware of some of the warnings from sheriffs.
"Every sheriff has the right to apply the laws in his county in the manner that they think is best," he said. "And a lot of sheriffs have gotten reaction from citizens (who are) afraid that people are going to come to their doors and demand their firearms. Several of the sheriffs I have talked to say, 'look we cannot support that, we are not going to be a part of that.' But that is a far cry from guys like Richard Mack, who say we should openly oppose federal officers in the course of their duty. ... The vast majority of sheriffs do not have that position."
Amerson, who is in his fifth term as sheriff of Calhoun County, Ala., met with Obama and other top administration officials Monday. He urged Obama to focus federal anti-violence efforts on treatment for the mentally ill. He said 25-30% of the people in his jail have mental or emotional problems. Of five deadly force incidents in which his officers killed a person during his time as sheriff, four involved mentally ill people who had not gotten treatment, Amerson said.
"The jails are a dumping grounds for these people," he said, "and they are in jail because of their acting out. If we don't get them treatment they are going to go back into society and do the same thing over again."
Contributing: KUSA TV
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