In the wake of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin has already gained some unpleasant notoriety for having sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden in early 2013 that decried any gun control measures in the wake of the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Hanlin also pledged not to implement any such laws.
The letter has been widely reported in the media, but, in fairness to Hanlin, we don’t yet know if his apparent reluctance to enforce gun-control laws—including some recently passed Oregon measures—might have made it easier for the shooter, Chris Mercer, to carry out his plan. Given that Mercer only recently moved to the area, perhaps not.
But Hanlin’s letter deserves close scrutiny nonetheless, because Hanlin is not alone. Hundreds of sheriffs across the country have sent similar letters, and if their actions match their words, already weak American gun control laws are being subtly loosened and disregarded by law-enforcement professionals nationwide.
More ominously, the specific language used by many of these sheriffs—including Hanlin—evokes certain themes and talking points of violent antigovernment movements that have persisted in America for decades.
This is the most interesting part of Hanlin’s letter:
The United States Supreme Court has ruled that when a Sheriff chooses to enforce an unconstitutional directive, he is violating his Constitutional Oath. I will NOT violate my Constitutional Oath. Therefore, the second purpose of this letter is to make notification that 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 by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.
In conclusion, it is my position as Sheriff of Douglas County, Oregon that I will refuse to participate in, nor tolerate enforcement actions against citizens that are deemed unconstitutional.