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Canyon County sheriff says he won’t enforce Obama’s new gun restrictions

By Meghann M. Cuniff —
Idaho Statesman

Posted 1/18/2013

Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue says he won’t enforce any new federal firearms restrictions, joining a chorus of county sheriffs across the U.S. who have publicly denounced President Barack Obama’s executive orders.

Donahue issued a statement Thursday calling Obama’s orders “political posturing.”

“I’m not going to fight hysteria with hysteria,” the statement reads.

Sheriffs in Oregon and several other states made similar announcements Wednesday, the day Obama issued 23 actions that don’t need congressional approval and apply only to federal law enforcement.

Obama’s orders call for, among other things, research into the causes of gun violence and ways to prevent it, and directing federal law enforcement to trace all guns seized during a federal criminal investigation. Obama also has called on Congress to ban military-style assault rifles and large-capacity magazines and to strengthen the background check system.

“A lot of sheriffs are now standing up and saying, ‘Follow the Constitution,’ ” said Sheriff Gil Gilbertson in southwest Oregon’s Josephine County.

Vaughn Killeen, a former Ada County sheriff who is executive director of the Idaho Sheriffs’ Association, said Donahue is the first Gem State sheriff to vow to ignore the new orders. He expects others to follow. Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney has yet to offer his opinion, a spokeswoman said.

“I can understand a sheriff who feels very, very strongly in a particular way and wants to make a statement,” Killeen said. “Many sheriffs have been contacted by their constituents in their counties wanting to know where they stand on this.”

But will it matter? Idaho has local offices of agencies such as the FBI and ATF, which enforce federal laws.

“For the most part, sheriffs do not enforce federal law, just like chiefs of police don’t enforce federal law,” Killeen said.

Wendy Olson, U.S. attorney for Idaho, said Donahue’s announcement won’t affect federal enforcement in Canyon County.

“Frankly, in the Treasure Valley, we have federal law enforcement who can execute the president’s mandate,” Olson told the Statesman. “It’s a mandate that’s been fully embraced by the Department of Justice.”

Olson said she doesn’t believe the decision will affect federal authorities’ relationship with the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office, which has people cross-deputized to serve on federal task forces. She said she understands differences of opinion can exist.

“They’ve been outstanding partners and investigators on a variety of cases,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said it’s unlikely any ban on assault weapons could pass the House of Representatives. Absent action by Congress, all that remains are the executive orders Obama announced.

Donahue, sworn in as sheriff on Monday, said he supports Obama’s proposal to provide incentives for schools to hire resource officers and will devote deputies to schools “just as soon as he provides that funding.”

“Each and every day, law enforcement officers in our communities put their lives on the line to prevent gun violence and uphold the Constitution. Those men and women don’t have time for hollow political posturing,” Donahue wrote. “When the White House is ready for meaningful dialogue, perhaps we can then talk about the real issues: for example, a culture of violence and disrespect of law enforcement, mental health issues, and the flow of illegal drugs into our country.”

Donahue said that gun ownership should not be a political issue and that the massacre in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 students and six educators dead “isn’t a political issue, it’s a tragedy.” “People who confuse these principles have no business telling me how to do my job,” Donahue wrote.

Gun advocates have seen Obama as an enemy despite his expression of support for the interpretation of the Second Amendment as a personal right to have guns. So his call for new measures triggered new vows of defiance. In Mississippi, Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican, urged the Legislature to make it illegal to enforce any executive order by the president that violates the Constitution.

“If someone kicks open my door and they’re entering my home, I’d like as many bullets as I could to protect my children, and if I only have three, then the ability for me to protect my family is greatly diminished,” Bryant said. “And what we’re doing now is saying we’re standing against the federal government taking away our civil liberties.”

Tennessee Republican state Rep. Joe Carr wants to make it a state crime for federal agents to enforce any ban on firearms or ammunition. Carr called for more armed guards at schools.

Legislative proposals to pre-empt new federal gun restrictions sprung up in Wyoming, Utah and Alaska as well. A Wyoming bill specifies that any federal limitation on guns would be unenforceable. It also would make it a state felony for federal agents to try to enforce restrictions.

“I think there are a lot of people who would want to take all of our guns if they could,” said co-sponsor Rep. Kendell Kroeker, a Republican. “And they’re only restrained by the opposition of the people and other lawmakers who are concerned about our rights.”

Republican state Sen. Larry Hicks credited Wyoming’s high rate of gun ownership for a low rate of gun violence.

“Our kids grow up around firearms, and they also grow up hunting, and they know what the consequences are of taking a life,” Hicks said. “We’re not insulated from the real world in Wyoming.”

In Minnesota, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole sent an open letter to residents saying the federal government doesn’t have the right to tell the states how to regulate firearms. He said he would refuse to enforce any federal mandate that he feels violates constitutional rights.

In the end, it might not matter what states do.

“The legislature can pass anything it wants,” said Sam Kamin, a constitutional law professor at the University of Denver. “The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution makes that clearly unconstitutional. Where there’s a conflict between state and federal law, the federal government is supreme.”

Kamin and other legal experts said such disdain of Obama’s proposals is reminiscent of former Confederate states’ refusal to comply with federal law extending equal rights to blacks after the Civil War.

The National Sheriffs’ Association has supported administration efforts to combat gun violence. President Larry Amerson, sheriff of Calhoun, Ala., said he understands the frustrations of people in rural areas, though. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Here is Donahue’s full statement:


Caldwell, ID – In response to media requests he received yesterday and today regarding the 23 point gun violence reduction plan announced by the White House, Canyon County Sheriff Kieran Donahue issued the following statement:

First of all, and let me be as plain-spoken as possible as to two issues: First, gun ownership is not a political issue; it is a constitutional right. Second, what happened in Newtown isn’t a political issue, it’s a tragedy. People who confuse these principles have no business telling me how to do my job. I swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, enforce the law, and protect my community, and that’s what I’ll do. Law abiding citizens have every right to own legal firearms, and I am confident that our Congress would not be so foolish as to let anyone strip us of our Second Amendment rights.

I’ve looked at the 23 Executive Actions signed by the President today, and I don’t see that they accomplish anything. It’s just political posturing, and I’m not going to fight hysteria with hysteria. I’ve worked for years with dedicated ATF agents, and other local law enforcement officers, to keep illegal guns – like sawed off shotguns – off our streets and enforce laws prohibiting felons from owning or possessing firearms.

The President says he wants to provide incentives for schools to hire school resource officers. Let’s do it. I’ll be first in line, and stand ready to devote as many officers as I can to schools just as soon as he provides that funding. I am a strong advocate of having certified police officers serve as SRO’s in our schools. He wants to require law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations. We already do. He wants to maximize enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime. Each and every day, law enforcement officers in our communities put their lives on the line to prevent gun violence and uphold the constitution. Those men and women don’t have time for hollow political posturing. When the White House is ready for meaningful dialogue, perhaps we can then talk about the real issues: for example, a culture of violence and disrespect of law enforcement, mental health issues, and the flow of illegal drugs into our Country.

God bless the United States of America.

Kieran Donahue Canyon County Sheriff

Meghann M. Cuniff: 377-6418

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