Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker recently signed into law a bill that bans “assault weapons.” It was a controversial move and vigorously opposed by gun rights organizations. And it also faces criticism from a substantial number of sheriffs who declared they would refuse to enforce the law.
This is not the first time these officials across the country have defied state governments. However, this highlights a question that tends to fly under the radar: What exactly is the role of sheriffs, and why can they refuse to comply with certain laws or mandates?
Sheriffs Push Back Against Unconstitutional Laws
The Protect Illinois Communities Act prohibits companies in the state from manufacturing or selling semiautomatic rifles, pistols, .50-caliber guns, and attachments that could increase a weapon’s fire rate. Liberty Nation’s Scott Cosenza explained:
“The new measures included banning innumerable firearms as ‘assault weapons’ if they have common features of modern firearms, rifle magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and pistol magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds. That’s just the start. After April 10, possession of these magazines will only be allowed on private property, on the premises of a federally licensed gun dealer for repairs, at a firing range or sport shooting competition, or when transporting it to or from these locations. The new law also bans .50 caliber rifles and more.”
Edwards County Sheriff Darby Boewe published a post on Facebook declaring his intention to ignore the law. “Part of my duties that I accepted upon being sworn into office was to protect the rights provided to all of us, in the Constitution,” he wrote. “One of those rights enumerated is the right of the people to KEEP and BEAR ARMS provided under the 2nd Amendment. The right to keep and bear arms for defense of life, liberty and property is regarded as an inalienable right by the people.”
Richland County Sheriff Andrew R. Hires expressed the same sentiment in a Facebook post, adding, “I, among many others, believe that HB 5471 is a clear violation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution.”
More than 70 Illinois sheriffs announced that they would not enforce the new law. Predictably, this did not go over well with Pritzker, who accused these individuals of “trying to politically grandstand” and “make a name for themselves.”
In Arizona, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some sheriffs defied lockdown orders and other related restrictions, arguing that they were not in line with the US Constitution. Sheriff Mark Lamb in Pinal County refused to enforce Republican Gov. Doug Ducey’s stay-at-home order, noting during an appearance on Fox News that he and his team “are here to protect the people from government overreach” and to “protect their rights.”
He added: “I felt like an order like this, to arrest people, to cite them, was going too far.”
What Is the Role of a Sheriff?
The role of sheriff became the subject of debate during the pandemic, as many across the nation did not enforce lockdowns and other restrictions. Critics claim these individuals were not doing their jobs. Defenders argued that their proper responsibility is to uphold the Constitution. Who is telling the truth here?
Individuals occupying the Office of Sheriff are the chief law enforcement officers in their county. They preside over any law enforcement officials in the area. Their responsibilities include maintaining the county jail, acting as bailiffs and marshals of the court, carrying out arrests, issuing writs, and other duties.
By way of contrast, police officers carry out their duties only within their city limits, while sheriffs and their deputies operate in the whole county. This role is typically identified as a constitutional position despite not being defined in the US Constitution but created in the state’s constitution. Currently, 48 states have the Office of Sheriff, a position that has more power than a rank-and-file law enforcement official.
Another distinction is that the Office of Sheriff is filled by the citizens of the county. A reason this position is essential to the Republic is because it is one of the few law enforcement roles that are accountable to the people. As elected officials, they can be voted out of office if the public does not believe they are performing their duties in upholding the Constitution adequately.
They are responsible for defending the citizenry not only from the bad guys on the streets but also the bad guys in government. For this reason, these individuals will defy orders, mandates, and laws that overstep the boundaries laid out in the nation’s founding documents. “A sheriff should always perform his or her duties in accordance with the Constitution of the United States as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court,” according to Sheriffs.org.
With the rise of the Constitutional Sheriff movement, more of these officials have taken public stands against government overreach, which has resulted in more attention from the media, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association (CSPOA), founded by former Sheriff Richard Mack, has been the tip of the spear in the effort to convince law enforcement to abide by the Constitution when it comes to pushing back against government excess.
Not surprisingly, he and others like him have met with criticism from left-leaning types who resent their defiance of the state. Robert Tsai, a Boston University law professor, told the Texas Tribune that Mack “has his history wrong” and that his theory regarding nullification was ill-advised. He indicated that politicians leveraged this theory to protect the expansion of slavery and to fight back against desegregation.
The Office of Sheriff is essential to the protection of liberty in the United States. When the people in this position perform their duties in line with the Constitution, they ensure safety from criminals and also from the government. In some instances, this would require them to go against state and federal authorities engaged in unconstitutional practices.
While many do not adhere to this principle, a growing number of sheriffs are coming around to the idea. As politicians from both sides of the aisle push laws that violate the Constitution, it is probable that these individuals will receive even more attention. That could enlighten more citizens on how their law enforcement officers are supposed to operate.
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