Can local leaders block gun control?
Mar 04, 2013 (The Wilson Daily Times - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
Andrew Clark wants Wilson County leaders to take a stand for residents' gun rights.
The county native and gun owner last week sent Sheriff Calvin Woodard a letter asking him to oppose federal gun control laws if he finds that they violate the Second Amendment. Clark also plans to ask county commissioners to consider a resolution in support of gun rights.
"I will try to take this as far as it can go," Clark said. "What I would like to see is a full nullification of any bill passed by the federal government infringing on the Second Amendment."
Clark said he decided to write Woodard after reading Facebook posts about sheriffs across the United States who said they'd refuse to enforce gun control laws they deem unconstitutional. At least 317 county sheriffs have made such pledges, according to the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association.
"A lot of sheriffs were coming forward and saying, 'I won't allow any of this in my county,'" Clark said. "I would love to see the sheriff stand up and actually say no like many others have done."
President Barack Obama is pushing Congress to pass gun control measures including a ban on assault rifles, a 10-projectile limit for ammunition magazines and expanded federal background checks. The National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups say the measures would chip away at Americans' Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
Gun control advocates say the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are needed to curb gun violence after a man opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, killing 20 children and six adults.
"It all started after Sandy Hook," Clark said. "A few friends of mine are ex-military, and they're aware of everything going on (with guns). They said, 'You need to get a gun, because the government is going to start banning them.'"
Fears of stringent limits on gun purchases and ownership have fueled a national increase in gun sales since the Sandy Hook school shooting. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported a nearly 59 percent increase in gun purchase background checks between December 2012 and December 2011.
YOUTUBE, FACEBOOK FEEDBACK
Clark took his campaign to the Web, posting a copy of his letter to Woodard on Facebook and reading the letter aloud in a YouTube video. He said he's received overwhelmingly positive feedback, racking up comments and shares on Facebook and topping 328 YouTube video views.
"Basically, sir, I along with many others in the town want you to stand up for us, 'the people,' and not let this 'militarized tyrannical plague' sweep across the great county of Wide Awake (Wilson)," Clark wrote to Woodard.
Woodard replied to Clark's emailed letter and acknowledged his concerns without taking a position on the Obama gun control plans.
"I teach constitutional law on the college level, and the Second Amendment has not been changed by anyone," Woodard wrote. "I was sworn to follow the law and uphold the United States Constitution."
Clark said he fears that portions of his letter expressing his deep disagreement with gun control advocates may have seemed disrespectful. He said his intent was only to ask his elected sheriff to preserve Wilson County residents' gun rights.
Woodard didn't return phone messages seeking comment in time for this story.
Clark acknowledged that Obama's current gun control plans wouldn't affect Americans who lawfully own guns, even those who have assault rifles. But he expressed a growing fear that government will gradually chip away at gun ownership rights.
"That's where it starts," he said. "It's one small tear that turns into a big rip and it pretty much leads to massive destruction of the Second Amendment. Let's go ahead and nip this in the bud now before it goes any further."
CAN SHERIFFS STOP GUN LAWS
Advocates pushing for gun control nullification rely on sheriffs' constitutional role as chief law enforcement officer in the counties where they serve. While sheriffs can't be made to enforce federal gun laws, scholars say they have no power to block the laws' implementation.
"As a general matter, federal law is the supreme law of the land," said Jeff Welty, assistant professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina. "Under the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution, while a law enforcement officer can't be compelled to enforce that law, they certainly can't violate that law."
Welty said not even an elected sheriff could prevent federal agencies like the Bureau of Alcohol. Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from enforcing gun control measures. But that doesn't mean they have to participate in enforcing those laws.
"If a sheriff said, 'I'm not going to be a tool of the federal government in implementing federal gun regulations,' I think the sheriff would have a right to do that," he said.
Welty explained that the Obama gun control plans now before Congress wouldn't require any local-level enforcement. Federal agents already run background checks and prosecute those who sell unlawful firearms and ammunition.
Clark said his next step might be to raise the issue with the Wilson County Board of Commissioners.
Commissioner Roger Lucas, a Republican, and Commissioner Rob Boyette, a Democrat, both said they would have to read Clark's letter before they could express an opinion.
"I'm interested in seeing what it is," Lucas said. "I do believe in Second Amendment rights, absolutely. I am a firm believer in the Constitution."
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