Saturday, April 6, 2013

You're Not the Boss of Me

So says good friend Tom Grady, jokingly repeating the classic schoolyard retort, when told to "have a nice day." Similarly, police officers sworn to uphold the law have repeated it to legislators who have ignored those law enforcement officials and - gasp - enacted laws they thought were prudent and appropriate,

The high-profile mass murders in the last year have begun a firestorm of frantic lawmaking, scathing accusations of indifference to the deaths of innocents and - shocker - political posturing of the most self-serving kind. Of course, the debates...such as they are...have spurred the usual suspects into fits of colossal, soaring rage.

Recently, President Obama paid a visit to our picturesque state to.... Well, he made a speech surrounded by a collection of prop-cops in support of gun control measures under consideration by the US Senate. The fact that, despite hectoring to the contrary, Americans seem of two minds about gun control hasn't dissuaded either side from the usual haranguing.

Across town, a collection of County Sheriff's gathered as a "prebuttal." Their stated aim was to refute many of the President's points. Along the way one of them called the Governor of Colorado a liar. They took the occasion to repeat their oft-offered positions that the new gun control laws, those proposed as well as those recently enacted, are silly, knee-jerk reactions to the murders of twelve people in Aurora and twenty-six in Connecticut. This in the shadow of several of these sheriffs having previously stated they would not enforce these laws.

That Federal laws and presidential executive orders are not commonly enforced by county sheriff's is a nicety often lost on their audiences. The bold statement that they will ignore Colorado law is, on the other hand, chilling and has resulted in a predictable cascade of bandwagoners ranting about their oath of office "protecting and defending" the constitution.

Turning this into a legal geek-a-thon would annoy all of us, so.... I axe ya, how can an elected official sworn to uphold the law ignore statutes passed by our state legislature and signed by our governor? Aha! That's where the Constitutionalists reply - "Because it deprives us of our right to keep and bear arms under the Second Amendment!" (froth, foam).

Please. I have twenty-nine years of law enforcement experience, ten years teaching law at the university level and a law degree and I have no idea how courts will rule on the laws Colorado has passed. In light of the 2008 Supreme Court Heller case this is an arguable proposition, because the court recognized the Second as an individual right (for the first time) but also allowed for reasonable restrictions. What does all of that mean? It will take a while before a court rules definitively.

An oath to protect and defend the Constitution is also a promise to support the democratic institutions the document puts in place. The people of our state elected the legislators who - lawfully - enacted laws they deemed appropriate under the circumstances. While of dubious effect (probably the only law that will help involves background checks) that's not the point. Some of them will be difficult to objectively enforce - and that's not the point, either. The refusal of any law enforcement official to enforce the law as written is a serious breach of public trust.

Our system of checks and balances assigns enactment to the legislature, enforcement to the executive and interpretation to the judiciary. It has worked remarkably well over the two hundred-plus years of its existence. Do we now abandon this scheme so more of us can have thirty-round magazines? At what point does one sole elected official - a sheriff - substitute his or her wisdom for that of the people's representatives?

The law may be silly or ineffective. We are duty bound to figure out a fair enforcement scheme, unless or until the appropriate governmental entity tells us differently.

No comments:

Post a Comment