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When the State Crosses the Line: The Role of Sheriff in Protecting Your Rights
Is your sheriff protecting you from government overreach? If not, it's time to get a new one.
The furor over New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s “emergency” order outlawing the carrying of firearms in Albuquerque has been ongoing ever since the news broke about the development. At the heart of the debate is the Second Amendment, which is supposed to protect our natural right to keep and bear arms. But there is another issue that is being overlooked by many: The role of the sheriff, which is key to this story and many others like it.
As I always say, local politics matter. This story is a prime example highlighting this fact. One of the most important local elected offices to focus on is the sheriff, whose role is to protect our natural and Constitutional rights from government overreach coming from the state and federal levels.
A sheriff’s roles and duties span a vast spectrum, from overseeing the county jail and managing deputy sheriffs to serving legal documents. But their primary function is their obligation to uphold the Constitution and the rights of the citizenry. To this end, they are to serve as a bulwark against overzealous government policies. While many in this position seem to have forgotten this mandate, others have taken it quite seriously.
In the case of New Mexico, Bernalillo County Sheriff John Allen announced on Monday that he would not be enforcing the governor’s authoritarian order. During a press conference, he said:
My job is to keep the peace and to make sure that the citizens of Bernalillo County are safe. And I do not believe that this order will help me do so. I'm a law enforcement professional. This order will not do anything to curb gun violence other than punish law abiding citizens from their constitutional right to self-defense.
Gun rights groups have already filed lawsuits against the order and it is not expected that it will survive in court. But while it is being litigated, Allen’s stance will make it harder for Lujan Grisham to force people to disarm themselves.
Something similar occurred in Illinois, whose government recently passed a sweeping ban on “assault weapons.” The measure prohibits the sale of certain rifles, high-capacity magazines, and rapid-fire devices. However, it won’t be easy to violate the rights of residents in many areas of the state because over half of its county sheriffs announced that they would refuse to enforce the law.
These officials argued that the ban infringes on the rights of lawful gun owners and pointed out that it would not doing anything to reduce crime. This law is also being challenged in court and likely won’t survive thanks to the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York Rifle & Pistol Association vs Bruen:
Upon the law’s enactment, the Illinois Sheriff’s Association issued the following statement:
“The ISA is extremely disappointed in the passage and enactment of HB 5471, that further regulates and limits the purchase of a wide variety of weapons for lawful gun owners…We are always supportive of new tools, techniques and laws that assist us in preventing and holding accountable those that wage efforts of harm and violence on others. However, this law does not do that. We will continue to advocate on behalf of Sheriffs, all of law enforcement and the law-abiding citizens throughout Illinois.”
Lastly, we have two Arizona sheriffs who refused to enforce onerous COVID restrictions while the pandemic was in full swing. Mohave County Sheriff Doug Schuster and Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb declared that Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order was unconstitutional and they would not be issuing fines, citations, or arresting anyone for violating them.
The order included a $2,500 fine and up to six months in jail for those who did not obey the measure.
Sheriffs are supposed to act as a critical check on state and federal governments. The Bill of Rights is meant to protect certain inalienable rights to citizens, and the sheriff is one that is supposed to uphold these protections, even if it means going against higher levels of government.
Moreover, in most counties, sheriffs are elected officials, which means they are subject to being held accountable by the residents under their jurisdiction. It is yet another reason why focusing on your local politics is so important. What if your governor decides to pull a New Mexico and crack down on your gun rights and you have a sheriff who is more than willing to use the threat of physical violence to enforce the law? We the people have more control over this than we tend to think.
Liberty means having officials and leaders in place who are dedicated to preventing authoritarian actors in government from infringing on your natural rights even beyond the ability to keep and bear arms. For this reason, it is incumbent upon us to ensure we are hiring the right people for the job. Otherwise, we might just find ourselves on the wrong end of oppressive laws.
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