Is the Davis County Sheriff’s Office New Second Amendment Firearms Policy token or functional?

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The Davis County Sheriff’s Office in Farmington is pictured Thursday, March 18, 2021 (Steve Griffin, Deseret News)

FARMINGTON – A new policy announced by the Davis County Sheriff’s Office this week demonstrates the complicated relationship between local, state and federal enforcement agencies described in constitutional law.

The policy prevents Members of Parliament and other departmental employees from enforcing federal laws or presidential decrees that they deem likely to infringe the Second Amendment right to bear arms of the U.S. Constitution.

The policy was promulgated on June 1; the Davis County Commission and Davis County District Attorney Troy Rawlings expressed unanimous support for the decision in a joint press release with the sheriff’s office the same day.

The Davis County Sheriff’s Office said it would enforce “clearly stated” laws that do not “infringe upon individual rights” and aim to protect the general public by reducing violence and preserving peace and order .

The new policy prevents law enforcement officials from taking action or using county resources to enforce an executive order of the President of the United States or any federal, state, or local political entity or non-enforcement agency. confirmed by Congress or the State of Utah Legislature “which appears to exceed the power of the political entity, violate the Constitution, or inappropriately infringe upon the right of a law-abiding citizen to hold and wear weapons.

University of Utah law professor RonNell Andersen Jones says the policy may be largely symbolic, but there are nuances.

“Sheriff’s department officials have probably already taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” said Andersen Jones. “They already have to respect the constitutional protections of individual freedoms, so saying they will is symbolic, but that doesn’t change the dynamic at all.”

Implementing decisions

But Andersen Jones said the key, in this case, is that the contours of constitutional rights are complicated.

Any regulation or limitation cannot be considered a violation of a constitutional right. The Supreme Court has made some rulings regarding the constitutionality of certain Second Amendment regulations and limitations, but recent actions by the executive regarding firearms regulations have yet to be assessed by the court.

“When a sheriff’s department, city, or county enacts a policy prohibiting the use of county resources for the enforcement of Presidential Orders or other Federal Orders in Council that are unconstitutional, it really raises the question of who will. determining what is constitutional and what is not, “said Andersen Jones.” The question of constitutionality is an important and complicated one, and it doesn’t really seem like Davis County grapples with it all carefully , they’re just making a more drastic decision that they’ll use their app. “

Andersen Jones said if the county wanted to be more specific, it could list specific executive orders, federal laws or regulatory decisions it refuses to apply and list its own broad views on gun rights . Constitutionally, the Sheriff’s Department is free to use its enforcement resources as it sees fit, including the choice not to enforce various federal provisions, but that does not protect the citizens of Davis County from the application at federal level.

In addition to residents of Davis County subject to federal law enforcement, the county itself is subject to conditions with federal funding. According to Anderson Jones, the federal government can impose reasonable conditions on the receipt of federal funds by states and municipalities such as counties and cities. As long as the federal government makes it clear what federal funding is tied to, it is free to make spending conditional on states or localities that engage in various behaviors.

The caveat is that the federal government cannot condition its funding on an obligation for a city or county to violate the Constitution. The contradiction may lead to a source of litigation in the future, but there are several instances in which the courts have upheld the connection between federal funding and a condition imposed on the city or state that they must apply a law. or must assist with federal law enforcement in some way in order to be eligible for this funding.

“This could be an area where we see the federal government relaxing its powers,” said Andersen Jones. “He cannot tell the county what to do – the Constitution forbids it – but the Constitution allows the federal government to spend its own money and then make the receipt of those funds conditional on certain conditions being met.”

The law professor pointed to the Sanctuary City or Sanctuary County statements regarding the Second Amendment, which completely exclude gun regulations. Anderson Jones says this is a clearer way for a city or county to express its intentions, but Davis County’s particular policy presents “misleading space.”

Discussions about Second Amendment state shrines gained popularity with the change in presidential administration. Utah is no exception, with several counties in Utah declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” State-level lawmakers in Utah recently approved two resolutions in a special session to declare their support for Second Amendment rights and to explore the possibility of announcing Utah as a Second Amendment sanctuary.

The avoidance of sanctuary language in Davis County politics was intentional. Rawlings, who has expressed “unequivocal support” for the policy, said the term sanctuary was not present because the policy “is not a declaration of white card defiance.”

Symbolic or functional?

Davis County Sheriff Kelly Sparks echoed Rawling’s sentiment, saying that certain terms in the sanctuary’s resolutions “could hamper our ability to use some of the laws we already have in the books that have gone through the proper process. to become law, have had the appropriate judicial opinion, therefore confirmed by the court. We use these laws all the time to help us fight violence in our community.

Sparks also added that he felt the sanctuary’s resolutions were largely symbolic and that such policy in an area of ​​law enforcement would be prosecutable and show a determination to uphold constitutional rights.

The constitutionality of the laws applied is at the discretion of the officer, a discretion administered by the sheriff’s office and consultation with the county attorney. Sparks acknowledged that the application of the policy could be “somewhat subjective”.

Decisions regarding recent or upcoming executive orders have not been announced by the Davis County Sheriff’s Office.

These most recent regulations include some set out by the Biden administration regarding “phantom weapons” and the decision to tighten regulations on stabilizing orthodontic appliances. Executive gun regulation orders to date include the Trump administration’s order banning stockpiles of bumps after the deadly Las Vegas shooting in 2017.

Sparks said former President Donald Trump’s executive order regarding bump stocks “would not necessarily be ruled out by this policy.”

Prevent gun violence

The growing epidemic of gun violence across the United States was taken into account when drafting the policy, Sparks said.

“One of the reasons we wanted to do this as a policy is to keep us safe and to maintain the ability to use the laws we currently have in place to help reduce this violence and respond. to this violence, ”he added. said the sheriff. “These incidents of violence, I firmly believe that we must do everything possible to stop them; they are tragic and they are sad and this loss of life is just a tragedy on an epic scale. But I truly believe that the good way to deal with this is to focus on the aggressor, not the weapon of choice. “

This sentiment was echoed at the Davis County commission meeting.

“There have been concerns because of what we have seen with these mass shootings. I don’t think these mass shootings are caused because someone has a gun; I think it’s because people need treatment. said commission chairman Bob Stevenson. “And we will never solve this problem until we solve the problem of mental illness in this country.”

Due to the fact that Sanctuary Cities are new to Second Amendment and gun regulations, data on gun violence rates in these areas is not available.

“There are raging debates among sociologists, legal scholars and others about the correlation between gun control and security, with arguments being made both ways. The sanctuary city setting could be a dynamic in which we could test some of these premises, but we haven’t yet come to a place where we can put that data together or see what the effect is, ”Jones said.

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