Sheriff Dean Wilson acknowledges there were some raised eyebrows in Sacramento earlier this month when he told a State Senate Committee that he wouldn't enforce one or more of the gun-control laws it was considering.
There were some raised eyebrows here in Del Norte as well, even though this is one of those rural, politically conservative areas where gun rights are especially prized.
Whether a majority of Del Norters support Wilson is hard to say. Frankly, a lot would depend on how one words the question, something the newspaper attempts to do starting today in its online poll at triplicate.com .
The sheriff bases his opinion of what laws would violate the U.S. Constitution on its statement that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." His is a liberal interpretation, contending it applies to most of the firearms out there. There are plenty of other people who generally support gun rights but have no problem with the constitutionality of restricting certain types of rapid-fire, high-capacity weapons.
A second controversial issue at play here is whether the sheriff has the legal right to not enforce state laws that he believes violate the U.S. Constitution. You won't find that decision-making power in his job description at the courthouse, but he says it's inherent in the power of the executive branch of government. He also notes that even foot soldiers in the U.S. military have the right to disobey orders that are illegal.
Neither issue is likely to be laid to rest soon. Wilson fully expects the Legislature will pass and the governor will sign one or more gun-control laws that he will refuse to enforce.
That doesn't mean that it's almost high noon and Del Norters are going to have to choose up sides - are you with him or against him? Look a little closer, and the drama fades a bit.
First of all, Wilson isn't saying his authority to decide what laws to enforce extends beyond his department. He doesn't claim the right to forbid other law enforcement agencies operating in Del Norte from enforcing them. That would include the Crescent City Police Department, the California Highway Patrol, the parks and the tribal police. Not to mention the feds.
Therefore, this is a matter of Sheriff's Office policy, not a call for Del Norte to circle the wagons.
Furthermore, selective enforcement of gun laws has been going on for a long time. Some of that is simply an urban-rural distinction. For instance, openly carrying a gun is a lot bigger deal on a crowded city sidewalk than it is out in the sticks.
This is the real world, and gun laws current and pending will be more strictly enforced in some places than others. There may be some practicality to that, as long as it doesn't thwart the overall intent of the law.
What's a little different is Del Norte's top law enforcement official going to Sacramento and proclaiming to state senators that what they're considering will have no impact on his department.
That smacks of grandstanding, but one thing about the sheriff is that he'll talk openly about his stands anytime, anywhere, to any audience.
What you see is what you get, and if you don't like it (or if you do), there's another election next year. It seems likely Dean Wilson's name will be somewhere on the ballot.