Michigan has three major gun reform bills nearing passage in Lansing, all aimed at lowering gun violence. Safe storage, red flag laws and universal background checks look all but certain to pass and go into law. But does that mean they will be enforced?
Your first thought is a sheriff’s office is going to follow every state law, but the first line in their oath is to defend the United States Constitution, so it becomes an issue when they feel a state law is in conflict with the Constitution. That’s where we’re standing as we’re seeing gun reform legislation make its way through Lansing.
“All the 83 sheriffs take that constitutional oath,” said Kalkaska County Sheriff Patrick Whiteford.
Kalkaska is one of 53 counties found by Bridge Magazine to have some sort of resolution stating they either are a Second Amendment Sanctuary County or one stating they respect constitutional rights.
In 2020, Kalkaska declared themselves a sanctuary county.
“We have the utmost respect and desire to uphold those constitutional rights,” said Whiteford. “And strive to make sure that that’s on the forefront of every decision we make.”
Mason County voted to respect constitutional rights that same year.
“It’s a nice gesture for county boards to support various initiatives, but a resolution is only, I hate to say it, but it’s only worth the paper it’s written on,” said Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole.
That’s the issue at hand. Can a sheriff refuse to enforce a state law? Can a county shield itself from a law they disagree with?
“There’s enforcement of the laws and then there’s times when you’re trying to find other means to a peaceful end,” said Cole.
That’s where there can be some leeway. There can be some priorities placed by law enforcement. Like with traffic laws, it’s illegal to speed but will they catch every speeder? No.
“Resources are a big part of that,” said Whiteford. “Whether a sheriff has the resources to even look into stuff like that.”
Whiteford says he is asked constantly about the constitutionality of the bills by his community and he says it’s not on him to decide.
“Is this constitutional? Are these laws constitutional?” said Whiteford. “That’s a decision that ends up falling to the courts.”