By Chris Hoffman, Ravalli County Sheriff
In recent days, I have received dozens of phone calls and emails from Ravalli County citizens wanting to know where I stand with regard to the 2nd Amendment. The questions have generally been phrased something like this: Chris, in light of the renewed efforts to ramp up gun control, I would like to know if your office will participate in the enforcement of unconstitutional federal laws. I would also like to know if your office would participate in the confiscation of firearms from law-abiding citizens if such an order were given by the federal government. These questions are not new ones. I have been asked them regularly since I first ran for sheriff eleven years ago, and my answer has never changed. My office will not participate in the enforcement of federal law. The fact is, local law enforcement cannot be compelled to do so. Further, I have sworn an oath to uphold, protect, and defend the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Montana. My responsibility to all citizens in this county, besides enforcing state law and county ordinance, is to ensure that their constitutional rights are not violated by law enforcement. In terms of the 2nd Amendment, no law-abiding citizen will have his firearms confiscated while I am the sheriff.
Since last week, when my views on this subject were aired publicly, I have received only two messages from citizens who are concerned negatively with my answer, and I hope that what follows will make my answer more clear to everyone.
Like most Americans, I have been watching current debate play out, and listening to the precipitous words spoken by the president, vice president, and certain members of Congress in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. On January 16th, President Obama announced 23 executive actions on gun control, and separately asked Congress to pass new gun control laws. As we now know, there was no executive order to confiscate weapons from law-abiding citizens. And, in fact, some of the President’s push makes sense. Things like launching a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign, or maximizing enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime, but much of his agenda overreaches and misses the mark. With all of the saber rattling going on in various corners of the nation, defenders of the 2nd Amendment are understandably concerned.
Add to this that we have begun to hear discussion on whether the United States Constitution, on the whole, is an outdated document which no longer speaks to our society’s needs. My opinion on this line of thinking is that the Constitution, including the 2nd amendment, is a hindrance to those who would like to see what they brazenly term “a fundamental transformation” of this country. But while we may be divided, this is still the United States of America, and the Constitution is still the law of the land. All of our rights are important, and each of them becomes more difficult to defend if the 2nd is lost.
There was good reason for our founders to word the 2nd Amendment as they did: “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This was to ensure our ability to remain free from despotism. At the time of its writing, those men had just emerged from a bitter war of independence. They also knew that freedom on this level was a tenuous thing and that, due to the nature of man, the fight for freedom would never end. Second only to the freedoms guaranteed in the 1st Amendment (freedom to exercise our religious beliefs, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to peaceably assemble and to petition the government), they knew that without the right of the people to keep and bear arms, no other freedoms could stand for long. In other words, the 2nd amendment was not put in place to protect your right to hunt.
I remember, as a school child, hearing an anecdotal story concerning the emperor of Japan during World War II. As I remember the story, Hirohito believed that because the attack on Pearl Harbor had been such a success, that Japan should simply invade the mainland United States. One of his admirals, Yamamoto, is reported to have replied, “No. We would find a rifle behind every blade of grass.” The fact is, peaceful, law-abiding citizens in this country will always be threatened by those who would take their freedom. They will also be the targets of the criminally minded and violently unbalanced part of our society. As a 28-year public safety veteran, I know that law enforcement cannot be instantly present to protect the individual citizen from those elements, any more than we can be there to make sure you lock your doors at night or remember to buckle your seat belt. Your safety is largely your own responsibility, and the existence of the 2nd Amendment ensures your right to carry out that responsibility.
Every freedom comes saddled with its inherent problems, but it is wrong to think that the way to solve those problems is by removing the freedom. The freedom guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment is as fundamental as our right to free speech. It is foundational and must be maintained if we are to remain free. As your sheriff, I will uphold, protect, and defend the entire Constitution of the United States and the State of Montana.