Some time ago, I wrote in this space of Oregon’s Douglas County Sheriff John Hanlin and his 2013 temper-tantrum letter to Vice President Biden.
Hanlin was putting the VP on notice that he - and now more than 20 other Oregon lawmen - would not be enforcing any new federal gun laws. Further, Hanlin bluntly told VP Biden, his officers would arrest any federal types that came into “his” county to enforce such laws. So there!
Well now, our nation’s latest gun massacre of innocent Americans has taken place in Hanlin’s county, about seven miles from his desk. We’ve got nine grieving families, hundreds of saddened friends and relatives, the cold body of a deranged killer and a national media trying to get Hanlin to say the blood-letting has given him reason to re-evaluate his position.
I know Hanlin. And I’ll give ol’ Wolf Blitzer the Sheriff’s ultimate response. “NO! There will NOT be a change.” Wolfie can take that to the bank.
In my own Oregon county, we’ve got another badge-toter saying he has better things to do. Oregon’s scofflaw lawmen aren’t alone. Many hundreds of these artless dodgers across the country are taking a similar defiant and dangerous stance on gun laws. While all have sworn various oaths to uphold state and federal constitutions, the plain fact is - they aren’t.
Like that crazy, in-it-for-the-money Kentucky county clerk who won’t issue marriage licenses to gay couples, these guys have set themselves apart from the rest of us by openly flouting both their oaths and the law. That clerk, by the way, has signed a book deal and has an agent talking to movie and TV producers. I’m waiting for one of these sheriff guys to follow suit.
There are probably lots of excuses for these “tough” law enforcement guys to hide behind. You’re certain to hear Hanlin’s choice before this is all put to bed and we’re “shocked” by another mass killing spree elsewhere. I’ll give you one scenario I’ve thought about for awhile.
Most sheriffs I know are elected to office. They have to become politicians and openly compete. They have to solicit endorsements from other local political heavyweights, recruit volunteers and raise money. Just like others who want to be on the city council, the county commission or the legislature. Those “talents” are not in the official job descriptions we have for our local law enforcement chiefs. But they’re real.
Playing into that is the fact most people who run for sheriff - and in some communities chief of police - have many years of experience behind them. That’s their prime requirement to compete for the job. In that regard, their concern about future retirement at the public trough is no different from any other civil servant working for any other level of government. Like the rest of us, they’re looking for future monetary security.
Now, given those two factors - personal future job concerns based on all the years of employment already served and having to be a politician who doesn’t want to make enemies among the voters needed to keep you in office - you’ve got a toxic mixture. If the sheriff goes around willy-nilly enforcing all those pesky laws, that could mean stepping on a voter’s toes - or even worse, on those dollar donor’s pinkies. So, well, you can just see longevity in the job would be sorely threatened.
Over the years, I’ve known many, many lawmen at all levels of government. Private, too. The vast majority have been honorable and carried their responsibilities with courage and respectability. Until you mix politics - money and votes - into the mix. Then, my respect factors have taken hits.
I’m not saying the best course would be to appoint or hire sheriffs from the open market. Lots of problems there, too. But we can’t have effective enforcement of our laws - ALL our laws - if fear of losing votes or political support or campaign funding factors into how and which laws are effectively enforced.
Sheriffs know their constituents. They get a feeling for how much enforcement is going to be tolerated and when there will be resistance - even armed resistance- as we’re seeing across the country right now. The easy way out is to not provoke that pushback by aggressive sheriffing. In Oregon and other Western states, gun laws create pushbacks. And while that means public safety is often compromised - and it really is - by looking the other way and letting gun laws slide, some of these guys think that’s important to their political and economic futures.
That’s not the kind of sheriff I want in the job. The guy who blasted nine people off the face of the earth in Roseburg, Oregon, had no concern for the political future of his victims. Or, the economic future of Sheriff Hanlin. If Hanlin and these other guys want to choose which laws they’ll enforce for the good of their retention in office, it’s time voters who need and expect full lawful protection in all instances choose someone else to do the job.
One other thing about Hanlin’s performance bears noting. He told reporters they would never hear him say the name of the shooter. Since Hanlin made himself the chief spokesman between the sheriff’s office and the public, where should news people go to get that name?
Turns out a Los Angeles news bureau came up with it. Hanlin has yet to confirm - or deny - the information.
One of the prime duties of law enforcement, when acting as the lead agency in an emergency or crime, is to get as much information to the public as possible in the shortest time. Hanlin personally put himself in that spot, yet wouldn’t disclose important information his staff had developed and confirmed. And which the public had a right to know.
Seems Sheriff Hanlin won’t enforce laws he doesn’t like and won’t fulfill his public obligation when faced with a situation he finds personally objectionable. Could be he should consider another line of work where the duties he swears to uphold aren’t so personally distasteful.