New gun laws? Mohave sheriff will just say no
Mohave County Sheriff Tom Sheahan has joined a growing list of rural sheriffs who say they will not enforce gun laws that might be enacted in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"If I feel a law is unconstitutional, I probably wouldn't enforce it," said Sheahan on Wednesday.
Sheahan's stance is similar to that of other sheriffs and elected officials across the country, particularly in rural areas.
"The Second Amendment is a very hot topic these days," he said, alluding to President Barack Obama's recent request that Congress ban military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Obama also signed 23 measures designed to close loopholes in existing gun laws - actions that do not require congressional approval.
And while Sheahan does not believe the House of Representatives would pass a ban on so-called assault weapons or high-capacity clips, he agrees something must be done to keep these types of weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill.
"The big issue is the mental health question," he said. "We deal with these issues every day and it can be real tough in rural areas.
"There's no crystal ball to help us determine what someone will do in the future."
Sheahan also said rural Arizona is "completely different" from urban New York, where strict gun laws have been in place for years.
"Our situation is unique," he said, "This is a serious issue for Arizona and throughout the West."
And he is not insensitive to the massacre of 20 children and several educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School last month.
"Certainly that was a big tragedy," he said, "but since then there has been a lot of overreaction. It really gets me when I hear comments on gun crime. Guns don't commit crimes. People do and they do it with a gun or a knife."
Sheahan doesn't believe Congress will ban assault rifles like the AR-15, or high-capacity clips. "But if they did try another ban," he said, "I would never disarm a law-abiding citizen."
Nearly 19 years ago, Congress passed the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. The law banned the manufacture and selling of certain weapons, such as AK-47s, Uzis and Tech 9s.
People who already owned weapons subject to the ban were allowed to keep them.
The law was on the books until 2004, when sunset provisions allowed it to expire. While opponents at the time said the ban did nothing to curtail violent crime, law enforcement officials across the country did not want the law to expire.
While Sheahan is far from alone in his opinion, it is at odds with the National Sheriff's Association. Larry Amerson, sheriff of Calhoun County, Ala., told the website Officer.com the organization does not support confiscating weapons from American citizens, but does support Obama's recent orders.
"Nothing in those 23 executive orders calls for the banning of a magazine or firearm," he told the website. "They did call for closing loopholes about mentally ill persons legally buying firearms. They called for closing loopholes to keep people for who it would be unlawful to purchase a handgun from doing so and it called for more law enforcement in protecting our schools."
Mohave County Chief Deputy County Attorney Jace Zack declined to speak in hypothetical terms - such as a currently nonexistent law that would compel law enforcement to confiscate weapons - but he did say anybody involved in law and order would be bound to enforce laws that courts have deemed constitutional.
He did suggest, however, the sheriff could place a low priority on enforcement of such a law if it came to pass.