Sheriffs’ negative response to gun control proposals is counterproductive
By The Oregonian Editorial Board
on January 21, 2013 at 4:06 PM, updated January 21, 2013 at 5:02 PM
The growing chorus of county sheriffs rhapsodizing about their love of the Constitution and dislike of gun control laws raises an important question. When did politics in this country get so far out of tune that so many people — including ones elected to uphold the law — believe the only laws that matter are the ones that fit within their personal definition of right and wrong?
As Congress and the White House contemplate how to respond to the horrific December shooting deaths in Newtown, Conn., and at ClackamasTownCenter, sheriffs across the country — including more than a half dozen in Oregon — have sent letters of protest to leaders in Washington, D.C., and constituents at home. The mass-mailing effort will accomplish little other than to ramp up voter cynicism and provide a bit of stimulus for the struggling U.S. Postal Service.
If this were a one-time event, we could write off the grandstanding to emotions in the wake of two catastrophes and a polarizing election. Unfortunately, guns represent just one of a handful of issues where a lack of national consensus has knitted an ugly quilt of ignored or scorned laws.
Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum received a significant boost in her campaign last spring when she said enforcement of marijuana laws would be a low priority for the Justice Department if she were elected. Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett, one of the sheriffs vowing not to enforce federal guns laws with which he disagrees, pointed out that Oregon law prohibits local officers from enforcing some federal immigration laws.
On the issue of guns, the Oregon Legislature is more likely to adopt stricter laws than it is to prohibit enforcement of federal law. When asked what he would do if the state passed gun laws with which he disagreed, Garrett responded that such laws would undergo judicial review and he would support them if they were constitutional. Essentially, he dodged the question.
Seemingly everyone is dodging when it comes to contentious issues such as drug enforcement, gun control and immigration. The Oregon Legislature should not avoid those issues this session.
On immigration, the state should extend in-state tuition to Oregon high school graduates who entered the country illegally with their parents. Most other immigration issues should be addressed at the federal level through comprehensive reform.
On marijuana, the Legislature should tighten regulation of medical marijuana while also seriously looking at legalization. Otherwise, with marijuana already legal in Washington state, it’s only a matter of time before someone crafts a ballot initiative voters here will support.
As to guns, after starting his letter with inflammatory language about not enforcing federal laws that infringe on gun rights, Garrett concluded with a reasoned statement:
“I support recommendations around background checks, safe schools, and adding capacity to mental health services. I do not support action that would prevent law abiding Washington County citizens from possessing certain firearms or ammunition magazines.” Garret’s stance isn’t that different from the position of The Oregonian editorial board, though we support magazine limits.
It’s unfortunate that on the most sensitive issues, reasoned statements come as an afterthought.
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