Conservative sheriffs defy new gun regulations, refuse to enforce tighter restrictions

Enforcement of new gun regulations is a “a very low priority," according to some sheriffs

Published December 16, 2013 2:22PM (EST)

  (AP/Philip Kamrass)
(AP/Philip Kamrass)

The impact of tighter restrictions on guns is being questioned as a number of sheriffs in states from Colorado to Florida refuse to enforce newly enacted regulations.

As the New York Times reports, local law enforcement in communities with large gun-owning populations have been reluctant to act on new gun laws, sometimes refusing outright to enforce new restrictions.

Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County, Colo., is one local figure who has defied his state's new laws, calling the package of gun reforms passed earlier this year -- and hailed as a major victory for gun control advocates -- as "too vague" and a violation of the Second Amendment. He is joined in his opposition to new reforms by several sheriffs across the country who have also rejected new reforms.

More from the Times:

Some sheriffs, like Sheriff Cooke, are refusing to enforce the laws, saying that they are too vague and violate Second Amendment rights. Many more say that enforcement will be “a very low priority,” as several sheriffs put it. All but seven of the 62 elected sheriffs in Colorado signed on in May to a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the statutes.


In Liberty County, Fla., a jury in October acquitted a sheriff who had been suspended and charged with misconduct after he released a man arrested by a deputy on charges of carrying a concealed firearm. The sheriff, who was immediately reinstated by the governor, said he was protecting the man’s Second Amendment rights.

And in California, a delegation of sheriffs met with Gov. Jerry Brown this fall to try to persuade him to veto gun bills passed by the Legislature, including measures banning semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines and lead ammunition for hunting (Mr. Brown signed the ammunition bill but vetoed the bill outlawing the rifles).

“Our way of life means nothing to these politicians, and our interests are not being promoted in the legislative halls of Sacramento or Washington, D.C.,” said Jon E. Lopey, the sheriff of Siskiyou County, Calif., one of those who met with Governor Brown. He said enforcing gun laws was not a priority for him, and he added that residents of his rural region near the Oregon border are equally frustrated by regulations imposed by the federal Forest Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

While some states have laws that empower governors to remove public officials engaged in misconduct (like not following the law), many officials acknowledge that sheriffs have traditionally had a wide berth to selectively enforce laws.

“We’re not in the position of telling sheriffs and chiefs what to do or not to do,” Lance Clem, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety, told the Times. “We have people calling us all the time, thinking they’ve got an issue with their sheriff, and we tell them we don’t have the authority to intervene.”

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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