It’s not unusual for big city police chiefs to oppose pro-gun legislation. In fact, that’s the norm, with pro-Second Amendment chiefs like Detroit’s James Craig a notable exception. When it comes to sheriffs, however, many are some of the most vocal supporters of the right to keep and bear arms that you’ll ever meet. That’s why it’s worth exploring the fact that all 23 county sheriffs in the state of Wyoming have come out in opposition to the Second Amendment Preservation Act that’s currently working its way through the Wyoming legislature.
The sheriffs say that they’re not opposed in any way to people exercising their Second Amendment rights, but argue that the language of the legislation is so flawed that even the temporary seizure of a firearm in a murder investigation could lead to a police officer losing their job.
It’s not intended to be anti-law enforcement, but it is,” Crook County Sheriff Jeff Hodge said. “The intention was good, but they need to talk to peace officers and prosecutors.”
Were the bill to pass, Hodge said, it could turn an ordinary arrest into a career-ending decision for a peace officer.
While it does little to protect the average citizen and removes a protection police rely on, he said, it provides protection for one group: criminals.
The intent of the Second Amendment Preservation Act is to prevent firearms from being confiscated by federal entities under federal laws that may be passed in the future. It does this by holding state law enforcement officers accountable.
While the sheriffs have no issue with the concept, they feel the wording is flawed.
For starters, the bill states that no person, including a peace officer, shall have the authority to enforce any federal law or ordinance that infringes on a person’s right to keep and bear arms. Anyone who does so knowingly or who knowingly deprives a Wyoming resident of their Second Amendment rights shall be held liable.
Another section states that anyone who commits the above-mentioned act will be “permanently ineligible to serve as a law enforcement officer” and immediately terminated from their position. The bill removes the “qualified immunity” that protects officers from civil suits unless it can be shown they violated statutory or constitutional rights a reasonable person would have known.
Hodge said Wyoming’s sheriffs were not consulted about this wording. Police could quickly have explained the problematic implications, he said.
According to the sheriff, if a law enforcement official seized a gun while investigating a crime that was eventually turned over to the U.S. attorney for federal prosecution, the officer would lose their job if prosecutors failed to obtain a conviction, even though when the gun was seized no federal agency was involved.
Another example of how problematic the proposed legislation could become involves self-defense, Hodge said. If one person shoots another in self-defense, an officer will seize the firearm used as evidence until the investigation is complete.
“If the investigation is completed and it turns out to be self-defense, you have just taken a firearm from a law-abiding citizen,” he said. “You are law abiding until you have been convicted.
“If it ends up going to court and he’s found not guilty, he’s still a law-abiding citizen so [the officer who seized the firearm] has violated the statute.”
Every sheriff in the state has now signed on to a letter to lawmakers warning them of the “impossible dilemma” that the legislation would create for police. Sheriff’s are also concerned about the constitutionality of another bill that’s been introduced in the Wyoming House that would forbid private property owners from banning firearms.
“If you own a restaurant, you can’t prohibit someone from walking in there with an AK-47 and sitting down to eat,” he says. “You can’t restrict someone from coming on your private property with a firearm on.”
That is an attack on private property rights, Hodge said.
“As I’ve always said, your rights don’t trump another person’s rights,” he said.
Yeah, I’ve gotta say, that’s a goofy bill. I think gun-free zones are ineffective pieces of security theater, but if a private property owner wants to ban guns from their premises they’ve got the right to do so. There’s no way that a court would uphold this legislation if it does become law, and honestly, if my state representative or state senator were to endorse the idea, I’d have some serious questions about their understanding of the Constitution and private property rights.
While the sheriffs’ letter doesn’t specifically call out any Second Amendment organization for the new bills, Hodge is clearly directing his criticism at the Dorr brothers; three Iowa brothers who run Wyoming Gun Owners and a number of other state-level groups that have been accused by lawmakers and other 2A organizations of being more about getting cash from gun owners than actually strengthening the right to keep and bear arms.
Hodge does not believe effective legislation caters to special interest groups: “Good legislation comes from everybody discussing, debating and at times compromising. Being bullied into signing legislation over fear of special interest groups that likely do not have the best interests of Wyoming citizens in mind and are often not even from Wyoming should be very concerning to Wyoming citizens.”
The language of the Second Amendment Preservation Ordinance, as it stands right now, is almost certain to be rejected by the courts, because it prohibits even federal law enforcement officials from enforcing federal law within the boundaries of the state. The Supreme Court has previously ruled that state and local police departments don’t have to help enforce federal law, but the Court has rejected the idea that states can simply nullify any federal law that it doesn’t like.
Wyoming is one of the most pro-gun states in the country, and it would be a shame to see this legislative session wasted on proposals that have no chance of remaining on the books if they’re challenged in court. Lawmakers could easily amend the SAPA to put in on solid legal ground without becoming squishy on the Second Amendment, but they may very well choose to push through the bill in its current form because they don’t want to risk the ire of the Dorr brothers and their organization.