Gun control controversy: Sheriffs closely track Obama’s gun plans

By Scott Graves, Pilot staff writer January 18, 2013 10:20 pm

The Pilot
 

Curry County Sheriff John Bishop is breathing easier now following the official announcement Wednesday of President Barack Obama’s proposed ban on new assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

“I’ve looked at the president’s executive orders and there is nothing new that isn’t already happening in Oregon,” Bishop said Thursday. “There is nothing unconstitutional in the orders.”

Obama’s orders still have to be approved by Congress. Without that, the 23 executive orders apply only to the federal government, not local or state law enforcement agencies.

 

In the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s announcement, many people throughout the country were speculating about gun control proposals submitted for Obama’s consideration.

Bishop and other law enforcement officials were concerned that President Obama would issue executive orders that violated the U.S. Constitution.

 Earlier this week, Bishop joined colleagues from Crook, Coos and Linn counties who wrote their constituents, Vice President Joe Biden or Obama, declaring their intent to uphold the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 “I knew that some of the proposals on Obama’s desk submitted by Congressional members were clearly unconstitutional,” Bishop said. “I didn’t want law-abiding citizens such as you and I to become criminals because of a knee-jerk reaction by lawmakers.”

He stated as much in a letter to Obama that was published as a public forum in the Jan. 16 issue of the Pilot. Other Oregon sheriffs sent similar letters to their constituents, Vice President Joe Biden or President Barack Obama declaring their intent to uphold the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

In a letter to Biden, Crook County Jim Hensley declared: “Any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the President offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or my deputies …”

On Wednesday, Deschutes County Sheriff Larry Blanton, who didn’t write a letter said, “I agree with the basics of the letter, agree with supporting the Second Amendment.”

But, when it comes to enforcing the law as laid out by the U.S. attorney general, if you can’t comply as a law enforcement officer, he said, it’s time to seek another line of employment.

The Oregon sheriffs and sheriffs around the country took to their keyboards as Biden prepared to deliver to Obama recommendations for overhauling the nation’s gun laws. 

Obama urged a reluctant Congress to act on other proposals to curb gun violence one month after an elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., left 20 children and seven adults slain by gunfire.

Obama outlined four legislative proposals aimed at curbing gun violence: universal background checks along with gun purchases, a ban on assault weapons, a ban on ammunition magazines with a capacity for more than 10 rounds and a crackdown on weapons trafficking.

But Hensley, for one, anticipated action that would “infringe upon the liberties of responsible citizens who have broken no laws,” according to a copy of his letter provided by his office in Prineville.

 In their letters, both Hensley Bishop borrowed word-for-word a letter sent to Biden a day earlier by Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller.

Blanton said all the letter-writing misses the point: Legislating gun control is difficult, at best. Human behavior resists the law. Methamphetamine is still a problem despite legions of drug enforcement officers; some drivers still drive drunk, no matter how severe the penalty.

And changing the law on drunken driving is a simple matter next to dealing with the Second Amendment, the one that guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms, Blanton said.

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

But Blanton counseled patience and deliberation before resorting to “knee-jerk reactions.”

“Everybody just take it easy for a minute,” he said. “Let’s see what happens here and see what it really means.”

Bishop was concerned that, in the wake of recent mass shootings in Oregon and Connecticut, politicians were trying to exploit the death of innocent victims by championing laws that would prevent “honest, law-abiding Americans from possessing certain firearms and ammunition magazine.”

“Let’s take care of the issues of crime before we pick on the people who have shown they live by the laws of society,” Bishop wrote in his letter.

His public forum in Wednesday’s issue triggered a firestorm of email and phone responses from community members siding with and against Bishop. (See letters on Page 4A and 5A.)

“Thank you Sheriff Bishop and all the other sheriffs in Oregon for standing up for the Constitution,” Cape Ferrelo resident Martin Cappello wrote in a letter to the Pilot. “Maybe if enough elected officials and regular people let our legislators in Washington know how we feel about the direction our country is heading we can change that direction.”

Brookings resident Michael Pitts-Campbell wrote, “Peace officers have no business publicly advocating the disobedience of laws or regulations created in a manner established by our Constitution. A peace officer’s sworn duty is to uphold the entire Constitution, not just the bits and pieces with which they agree.”

On Friday, Bishop said, in hindsight, “I could have written the letter better. I should have softened it some, but I still feel very strongly about the issue.”

He added, “It was important at the time to send a message to Obama and Congress to do it right. Just because its an executive order doesn’t mean it’s law. It still has to be approved by Congress.”

Bishop wants the community to know that his intention were never to defy federal laws.

“I’m not picking and choosing what laws to follow,” Bishop said. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution. If any of the executive orders are approved by Congress, I will follow them.”

One thing that Bishop felt was missing from Obama’s executive orders was including efforts to deal with the mental illness issues often associated with gun violence.

“More focus needs to be on mental health and not gun control,” he said. “Mental illness and drug addiction are a big part of the problem.”

— WesCom News 

Service contributed 

to this report.