Colorado Sheriff Steve Reams recently told CNN that he would rather go to jail than enforce a newly introduced gun law. He wishes to give himself permission to ignore state law at will, but he could be seeing the inside of his own prison soon. Sheriffs do not have the right to disregard state law, and refusal to enforce it could result in Reams being held in contempt of court.
The Colorado Senate passed a bill on March 28 that would allow a relative, roommate or law enforcement professional to petition to confiscate someone’s firearms should that person be deemed too mentally unstable to possess them. The owner of the firearms would then be able to appeal the judgment in court within 14 days of the seizure, and if they fail to make their plea, the judge could order the guns remain withheld for up to one year.
Sheriff Reams is entitled to his passion for his Second Amendment right. His opinions on the recent bill are just as valid as anyone else’s while he is wearing civilian clothes, but the moment he puts his sheriff uniform on, those opinions cannot be allowed to influence his decisions. The police are an extension of the law; they should not be the arbiters deciding which laws are valid.
It is worth noting that Reams is not only conducting himself in a way that seems to indicate a lack of understanding of his role, but is also setting a frighteningly low standard for other officers. Allowing the police free rein in choosing which laws to uphold has had devastating results in the past. In June 1999, Colorado police refused to enforce a restraining order Jessica Gonzales had on her husband. The children were kidnapped by their estranged father and later found dead in his truck. The father was killed in a police shoot-out shortly thereafter.
A future in which law enforcement can choose which laws they want to enforce has the potential to quickly become chaotic, further exacerbating the pervasive distrust in our police force here in the states.
Those in opposition to stricter gun control laws will argue that Sheriff Reams should not be obligated to enforce a law he deems unconstitutional. While one could argue that the law is indeed unconstitutional, it is likely that, had this been most any other law, a sheriff’s dismissal of it would have been met with greater backlash. Many of those supporting the sheriff are likely doing so because he is taking a stand in defense of the Second Amendment, but had he taken a stand against laws regarding the enforcement of restraining orders, he would have fewer admirers.
An officer of the law should, ideally, strive first and foremost to protect and serve. Not upholding these laws could very well mean doing the opposite of protecting the people he serves. Controversial as this bill may be, it was written with an intent to ensure that potentially unstable individuals could not gain access to weapons that could make them a danger to themselves and others.
Furthermore, should he refuse to uphold the law and an innocent person is hurt, then Reams, or any other officer who chooses to take part in this particular form of protest, could on some level be considered responsible. The fact that gun violence is unusually prevalent in the U.S. is common knowledge, and the fact that we have six times as many firearm homicides as Canada and 16 times as many as Germany is all but an open secret. With rates like these, we should be doing all we can to reduce the chance of gun violence. Failure to enforce these laws could result in deaths that would have been prevented otherwise.
Regardless of whether we are pro- or anti-gun control, we should make it our duty to hold our officers to a higher standard. Sheriff Reams is perfectly within his rights in publicly disagreeing with the recent passing of the bill, but he cannot be allowed to interpret state law while on the job. There is no place in today’s society for a sheriff with a desire to derelict his duty and fail to uphold the law he has sworn to serve.