His name is Dennis Dotson. Probably doesn’t mean anything special to you. More than likely you couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Unless you live in Lincoln County, Oregon. Here, it’s Sheriff Dotson to us. At the moment, he’s giving me reason to doubt my vote in our last election.
The Good Sheriff is just one of more than a half dozen in our little state to renounce a new Oregon law he doesn’t believe in and has promised lax- if any - enforcement. Seems he’s a practitioner of a sickness that’s been sweeping the country lately: elected officials turning their backs on laws they don’t like or agree with.
In Dotson’s case, it’s the result of a new law requiring - requiring - nearly all gun sales in our state include at least a cursory background check. Even sales between private individuals. Seems like a damned fine idea to me. But not to our High Sheriff. And a few others.
No, he’s pissed. While not saying he’ll ignore our new legal requirement for gun sales, his reaction was “We’ll put enforcement on the back burner because we’ve got a lot of other things with higher priority.” In other words, law be damned. In more other words, “I’ve got to run for re-election soon and I’m not going to enforce a law that may return me to private life and no pension.” Or something to that effect.
This is not the first time Oregon sheriffs - and to some extent sheriffs nationally - have decided they don’t like their chances of re-election if they enforce an unpopular law. Several years back, the U.S. Attorney General emphasized federal authorities can step in and enforce gun laws if local representatives of any stripe don’t. Or won’t. Not only did many sheriffs throw a hissy-fit that someone from “outside” might make them live up to the oaths of office they’d all taken. Some even promised to arrest and jail the legally-constituted feds.
Now a tidy number of Oregon sheriff’s have joined county clerks in other states who’ve also become law breakers; clerks refusing to honor a U.S. Supreme Court decision by issuing marriage licenses to LGBTs. Clerks, all of whom - like the lawmen and law women - had taken an oath to perform all legally prescribed duties of their offices. Oaths of office, they’re called. Oaths. Promises to uphold all laws.
So now, as a nation, what the Hell do we do? Is someone in authority a step or two above these miscreants going to have to go from state to state - office to office - to force compliance with our laws? Do legally constituted authorities - a link or two up the food chain - step in and jail ‘em? Do we have recall drives for every recalcitrant sheriff and clerk?
Many of these lawbreakers - badged or not - claim no one can remove them from office but voters. They hide under a claim that they’re “constitutionally elected” which gives them some sort of perceived immunity from being forced to do something. Or to be responsive.
At the same time, you and I know, if some of these sheriffs who won’t enforce a gun law - even a simple, common-sense gun law - faced a recall, they’d beat a recall vote. Gun owners, many of whom haven’t been to the polls since WWII, would show up en masse to support anyone they believed was being “forced” to uphold “unjust” laws regarding guns. If the feds stepped in, there’d be shots fired.
I was raised to believe laws are not government suggestions. They aren’t informal directions to help us get along with each other. They’re requirements for a certain behavior - do something or not do something because it’s a law.
So, what do we do? Should I take a page from our local sheriff and drive 60mph in a 35 zone because my personal belief is that 35mph is far too slow and I’ve got important things to do? Should I drive 20mph above posted limits through high school speed zones because I believe kids that age are old enough to take care of themselves? If I find prices charged at the county landfill are too high - maybe onerous - can I just dump my trash along some deserted road?
If constitutionally elected law men - and law women - openly declare which laws they’ll enforce and which they’ll ignore, what becomes of our society? If legislatures can write laws - if cities and counties can enact ordinances - if congress and the president create a law - what happens when the rest of us turn our backs and act as if nothing has changed?
And, if I want to fly my confederate flag in your face, who’s going to put a stop to it?
Election to public office confers no “above-the-law” or “laws-don’t-apply-to-me” exemption. Yet that’s what these folks who won at the ballot box are telling us. Sheriffs. Clerks. Legislators. Member of Congress.
What do we do about it?