Editorial: Sheriffs must enforce laws, not interpret Constitution

Published Jan 18, 2013 at 04:00AM

Upholding the U.S. Constitution is one thing. A sheriff refusing to enforce the law is quite another.

Responding to the Obama administration’s plans for gun control, Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller declared in a letter dated Monday that he would not enforce regulations he decided violate the Second Amendment. Further, he wouldn’t permit federal agents to do so in Linn County.

Mueller wrote that he refuses “to participate, or stand idly by, while my citizens are turned into criminals due to the unconstitutional actions of misguided politicians.”

In letters dated Tuesday, sheriffs from Crook and Curry counties joined in, using most of the same language. From Coos County came a missive that expressed support for the Second Amendment, but stopped short of refusing to enforce the law.

We don’t doubt the sincerity of Mueller and his colleagues in Crook and Curry, nor that they have the support of at least some of their constituents. But it seems they’ve forgotten who gets to decide what the Constitution requires. It’s not up to them.

To his credit, Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton has another view. As he said in comments published in The Bulletin on Thursday, a law enforcement officer who can’t comply with the law needs to seek another line of employment.

“This is a difficult situation and a thing that, frankly, ... nobody wishes would have happened,” Blanton said. “I strongly support the Constitution and I strongly support the Second Amendment, not just the Second, but all the amendments.”

That’s the key: all of the amendments and all of the Constitution, which provides a path to resolve disputes about the meaning and implication of its provisions. Sheriffs need to enforce the laws, not interpret the Constitution.

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