In letter to Obama, Utah sheriffs take strong stance on gun laws
January 25, 2013
The Utah Sheriff’s Association wrote a letter to President Barack Obama last week with a strong stance on the gun law debate.
"We wanted to frame our position as best we could as the president and others are deliberating about how they are going to go about dealing with this issue," said Summit County Sheriff and association President Dave Edmunds. "Yes, there needs to be firearm legislation to a certain point, but let’s not go too far afield."
Edmunds said there is a lot the Association agrees on in Obama’s gun plan.
"There are some provisions that make a lot of sense, such as having additional background checks for people who are mentally ill to make sure we’re keeping guns out of their hands," he said. "And obviously we want to keep guns out of felons’ hands."
In what may appear to be a challenge, the letter states, "No federal official will be permitted to descend upon our constituents and take from them what the Bill of Rights in particular Amendment II has given them," it read.
The letter adds that police officers would be "prepared to trade our lives for the preservation of its traditional interpretation."
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Park City resident Bill Tumpowsky said he found the letter embarrassing and inflammatory.
"Why is it necessary?" he asked. "It’s alarmism, and I think the letter played into that alarmism."
Tumpowsky added that he is "shocked" and "horrified" that this came from his own sheriff, who he voted for, and said the letter doesn’t align with the views of many local residents.
"The idea that the federal government is going to attack ‘Red Dawn’ style and we all need our assault weapons to defend ourselves against the government I think is a scary mentality. I don’t think it’s patriotic. I think it’s just the opposite," he said.
Tumpowsky, a gun owner, said he didn’t see it as an issue of gun control, but of an evolving culture.
"It’s certainly a discussion we need to have," he said. "I think Newtown, Conn. pushed everyone over the edge, because it was so horrendous and frustrating."
Tumpowsky said he isn’t scared of "black" helicopters coming down and taking his rights away, but of someone with road rage carrying an assault weapon.
"Rage is a very dangerous emotion," he said. "I like the idea of trained people carrying guns with the authority to use them. But it’s really pathetic if we all have to carry guns to protect ourselves. It’s a significant loss of civilization, and that’s what scares me."
Edmunds said the letter has been mischaracterized and was never meant to be a challenge to the President or anyone else.
"It was not meant to be incendiary," he said. "Gun control is an emotional issue. In this country right now, I can think of few issues that are more emotional."
Edmunds pointed out that as state peace officers, they are under no obligation to obey executive orders from the president.
"Those aren’t laws. Those are directed at federal employees that are at his command," he explained.
Edmunds added that the Supreme Court has been clear that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right.
"Yes, they can be restricted," he said. "Yes, there are certain provisions that can be put into place. But if you are talking about a weapons ban as some politicians are, we wanted them to understand our position. We will defend the Constitution."
If the constitution is trampled on, Edmunds said that peace officers not only have the right, but they have the duty to protect it.
"That was something every peace officer, when they put the badge and gun on, took an oath to protect and defend, up to and including trading their lives for defense," he said. "We’re not there and we’re not suggesting we’re there. We just don’t want to get there."
Edmunds compared the situation to Birmingham, Ala. during the Civil Rights era when a police commissioner enforced city and state laws that said African-Americans could not integrate into society.
"In the 1950s, the Supreme Court had already ruled that African-Americans do have a constitutional right to fully integrate into society, and there were police officers that were enforcing a law that had been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court," he said. "What would it have been like if the police officers had said, we’re not going to enforce a law that’s unconstitutional?"
Twenty-eight of 29 Utah Sheriffs signed the letter. Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is not a member of the Association, but released a letter saying that he "supports the majority of the intent of the letter."
Winder told the The Park Record that above all, he supports the Constitution.
"If the underlying intention of the letter is to say that as constitutional officers, we swear an oath to the constitution, that underlying element is of course one that I support. But why we’re in a position to have to defend it is the real question here. I don’t understand why the association felt the need to send it," he said.
Winder added that he found the letter unnecessary, tersely worded and inflammatory.
"There’s no basis to suggest there is an imminent federal incursion. And therefore, to suggest that to the public raises the stake in the discussion to a place it didn’t need to go. If they really believe there is an impeding federal incursion and the president is poised for tyrannical subjugation, I guess that’s an issue they’ll have to defend," he said with a laugh.