This is the new America? This is what’s come of Thomas Jefferson’s vision? After a 237-year experiment with democracy and freedom, some of those who’ve been given the mantle of leadership in the United States of America are apparently willing to sacrifice it all on the altar of their demagoguery-fueled perception of gun rights.
In Wyoming, legislators have introduced the blatantly unconstitutional “Firearm Protection Act.” They seek to create a felony punishable by five years in prison for any “official, agent or employee of the United States government” who enforces “or attempts to enforce any act, order, law, statute, rule or regulation of the United States government” regulating gun safety.
The Ft. Collins Republican county sheriff says he’ll violate his oath by refusing to enforce federal laws he considers unconstitutional. He’s mimicking other sheriffs around the country who have decided they have authority to decide which laws are not constitutional.
The sheriff of Jackson County, Kentucky, Denny Peyman, falsely claimed the federal government plans to ask him to confiscate guns, “and I said ‘you are never going to pull a gun from Jackson County,” adding, “I am responsible for the people inside this county… if Obama passes this, it doesn’t matter what he passes, the sheriff has more power than the federal people.”
He wasn’t the first Southern politician to pretend he has “more power than the federal people.” Sheriff Denny and the boys didn’t learn much from what they call the “War of Northern Aggression.” They got another lesson when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled their schools had to be integrated. But politicians are politicians. Although they knew they couldn’t get away with it, they couldn’t resist playing to their less-informed constituents.
Like those sheriffs and Wyoming legislators who sponsor the “Firearm Protection Act,” Southern governors knew more votes could be won than lost by playing the fool. In1957, when nine children arrived at a Little Rock high school where the Supreme Court said they could begin classes, segregationist governor Orville Faubus, turned them away, defying an order of the Federal District Court.
President Dwight Eisenhower refused to allow Faubus to disrespect the Constitution. Eisenhower was as determined to uphold his responsibility as this governor was to ignore his. Eisenhower reaffirmed that ours is a country of law, and patriotic citizens, regardless of their prejudices, traditions, and customs, are expected to obey the law. "The foundation of the American way of life," Eisenhower reminded them, "is respect for law."
Another Southern governor required a remedial course. Alabama’s George Wallace stood in another school-house door and attempted to defy federal law. “I stand here today, as Governor of this sovereign State, and refuse to willingly submit to illegal usurpation of power by the Central Government.” In spite of his rhetoric, federal agents moved Wallace aside and the federal law was enforced.
Pseudo-conservatives like Faubus, Wallace and those Wyoming legislators aren’t so ill-informed as they are ill-motivated. They know the law. They just don’t respect it. They’d rather play to the crowd than lead. During the segregation battles, politicians irresponsibly incited not only disrespect for democratic institutions but violence as well.
These demagogues regurgitate words of the “founding fathers,” demanding the Constitution be interpreted as the “fathers” intended. They can’t help themselves when an opportunity comes to trash both the “fathers” and their handiwork.
James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers Number 47 discussing federalism and the separation of powers. These legislators should read it instead of the junk they receive from the NRA. “The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.”
State legislators don’t trump federal law. They can’t prevent federal officials from enforcing it. Sheriffs don’t get to decide whether laws they don’t like are constitutional. In a dictatorship, only one opinion matters, but maintaining a free society requires the self-discipline to understand your opinion is just one of many.