The last several weeks have seen a great deal of discussion concerning the Second Amendment and the role of local government in enforcing laws that may be an infringement on the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. These discussions are, in large part, a reaction to proposals by some candidates for office (as well as current office holders) at the national and state level to severely restrict or even prohibit the ownership of certain firearms by Americans. Some have even called for the forcible confiscation of those firearms from millions of our citizens who have never, and will never, use them to harm other innocent people. Some of the proposals would even attempt to disguise such confiscations as “buy backs” by falsely implying that there is anything voluntary about such a program.
I think concerns about such initiatives are valid and that we are right to be on guard against any such move by government at any level. It has often been said that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” and I commend those in our community who are working hard to keep this issue front and center in the public consciousness.
But, the question is: What is the most effective response to those potential threats?
I believe that the clearest message that can be sent is a resolution leaving no doubt that we value the right to keep and bear arms and will oppose any attempt to lessen that right. As an official expression of the will of the voters of Daviess County, such a resolution carries far more weight than mere statements by other stakeholders. Should such a resolution be considered, I would be among the first advocating in favor of its passage.
Some, however, have suggested that we should instead declare, by ordinance, Daviess County a “Sanctuary County” where federal or state laws that (in some’s opinion) unconstitutionally infringe upon the right to keep and bear arms would not be enforced. While I agree with the sentiment behind this notion, I think it’s more complicated than some first realize, particularly for those in law enforcement. First, such an ordinance would violate HB 500, passed by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2012, rendering the ordinance null and void with no standing in law.
In language very similar to that of the oath that I took as a 17-year-old Marine before deploying to the Vietnam, in taking the oath of office as sheriff, I swore I would “… support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth.” This I have done to the best of my ability every day for the past 46 years.
Some, however, have suggested that the duties of sheriff should now be expanded to include interpreting our Constitution and thus determining what is and is not constitutional. This would necessarily involve deciding what someone’s constitutional rights are (or are not) and I can think of no greater threat to one’s personal liberties than taking that role away from our independent judiciary and vesting it in the hands of the police. Establishing such a precedent could, I fear, someday lead to devastating unintended consequences extending to issues not only related to firearm ownership.
For example, difficult as it is to believe today, there was strong opposition from many in law enforcement following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the 1966 case of Miranda v. Arizona that a criminal suspect had to be informed by the arresting officer that he has the right under the Fifth Amendment to remain silent. Opponents of that ruling argued that it would endanger citizens by enabling criminals to avoid prosecution. Should we allow law enforcement to decide on a local basis whether that right is to be enforced or not?
Too, consider the right under the First Amendment to question local government officials. Should the sheriff in each county be empowered to decide whether newspapers and other media outlets have the right to criticize myself and/or other officer holders?
Indeed potential abuses of power could impact the constitution in its entirety.
So, as strongly as I feel about protecting our rights under the Second Amendment, I am not ready to start down the slippery slope of allowing law enforcement to arbitrarily decide which laws they will enforce by empowering them to substitute their own views about the Constitution for those of the courts.
As a lifelong gun owner, hunter and shooting enthusiast, I value the right to keep and bear arms as much as anyone (and probably more than most). As one who has spent his entire adult life in law enforcement, I know that the vast majority of Americans who own firearms do so legally and responsibly. For this reason, I have been actively engaged throughout my career in protecting that right and will continue to do so.
For those who may feel otherwise about the best way to defend the Second Amendment, know I respect your right to disagree, but don’t make the mistake of interpreting my position as one who does not support our right to keep and bear arms. Nothing could be more void of the truth.
Keith Cain is Daviess County sheriff.