What happens if a sheriff doesn’t enforce a state law?
Augusta County Sheriff Donald Smith feels his comments on gun-control legislation expected to come out of Richmond have been misconstrued.
“I was put in some of the media saying that I was saying that I wouldn’t enforce the law. That’s not what I meant. The Constitution is the law,” Smith said before a packed house at a special Augusta County Board of Supervisors meeting on Wednesday night, ahead of a vote by the board to declare Augusta County a “Second Amendment sanctuary.”
This is what you can refer to as splitting hairs on the part of Smith, who insists that language in a Senate bill prefiled by Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, the incoming Senate Majority Leader, would require local law enforcement to confiscate assault weapons from Virginia residents, in spite of it being clear and obvious that the bill, as written, would do no such thing.
But the notion that SB 16 would require confiscation is being pushed as a talking point by gun-rights proponents leading the sanctuary movement, which is a clear effort by proponents to stoke voters on the right, facts be damned, ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
That this naked political power move could lead elected sheriffs, like Smith, to ignore state law should be a matter of concern.
I raised this issue in a recent conversation with a local elected Commonwealth’s attorney, who told me on background that the issue of enforcement of laws can be a murky one.
For starters, there is really no check for a local sheriff or Commonwealth’s attorney who decides to de-emphasize enforcement of a law on the books.
Think about it: if the General Assembly does pass gun-control legislation, and it becomes the law of the Commonwealth on July 1, and Smith or another sheriff in another Second Amendment sanctuary country decides not to enforce the law, how would we even know, first, and second, if it was to somehow become public knowledge, what then?
Sure, a citizen could file suit, but it’s not open-and-shut how that would work, and how the judicial process would play out, and what exactly would happen as the process was playing itself out.
And from my conversation with the local Commonwealth’s attorney, this kind of thing is already a thing, for lack of a better way to say it.
The elected official that I spoke with noted one local Commonwealth’s attorney office that has quietly decided to de-emphasize prosecutions for charges involving the recreational use of marijuana, for instance.
There’s also the trend from recent years involving a number of localities in the Commonwealth that have made it publicly known that they consider themselves to be sanctuaries with respect to enforcement activities led by the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The funny thing there is folks on the right have vociferously decried the “sanctuary cities” movement, while also using it as a model for what they’re doing to fight gun-control legislation.
And, yes, flip side, it’s also funny that folks on the left are up in arms on the “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” while being fully supportive of the rights of localities to be anti-ICE sanctuaries.
Bottom line here is that if Smith, as sheriff, decides that his office isn’t going to enforce new laws banning assault weapons, well, that’s pretty much on him.
That’s not saying that you have to like it, but it’s also not saying that Smith, or other sheriffs, are free from any repercussions.
I don’t think it would be out of the realm of possibility to see the General Assembly at least consider some kind of action related to budgeting in terms of the monies that come from the state to go toward sheriff’s offices in sanctuary counties.
That idea itself would be as controversial as the decision to not enforce state laws, but I’d have to assume it would come up in the back-and-forth that you know is coming.
Which means, yeah, sigh, this one ain’t over, by a long shot.
Story by Chris Graham