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McEntee: Utah sheriffs misfire in their attack on Obama's gun measures
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

In a show of fevered indignation, the Utah Sheriffs' Association has written a letter excoriating President Barack Obama's proposals to rein in gun violence of the kind that took the lives of 20 Connecticut schoolchildren last month.

With the signatures of 28 of 29 sheriffs — Salt Lake County Sheriff Jim Winder is not a member of the association — the letter calls for any discussion of firearms regulation to be discussed in Congress, "not silenced unilaterally by executive orders" that Obama may issue.

"Please remember," the letter says, "that the Founders of this great nation created the Constitution, and its accompanying Bill of Rights, in an effort to protect citizens from all forms of tyrannical subjugation."

Dozens of sheriffs across the country have sent out similar letters.

I can't imagine that "tyrannical subjugation" is on the to-do list of anyone in the White House, Congress or the U.S. Supreme Court. Nor can I believe that sheriffs and deputies would have to "trade our lives," as the letter says, to preserve the Second Amendment and its traditional interpretation.

I also doubt deeply that Obama, himself once a constitutional law professor, would willfully twist the Constitution's meaning.

What he seeks is a series of actions by Congress and an accompanying list of executive actions, which he can take, to better protect all Americans from the scourge of gun violence.

He is asking Congress to require criminal background checks for all gun sales, reinstate the ban on assault weapons that ended in 2004 and limit possession of armor-piercing bullets to law enforcement and the military.

His executive orders require federal agencies to make relevant background information available to the federal background check system; require the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence; and begin a dialogue on mental health issues as they relate to firearms.

There are many other proposals, all in the interest of protecting Americans from the daily toll of shooting deaths that we Utahns suffered when, in 2007, an 18-year-old gunman fired a pistol-grip shotgun — which he'd obtained illegally — in Trolley Square, killing five people and wounding four.

"No one's coming into a community and starting to remove guns," says Winder, a member of the National Sheriffs' Association, which supports Obama's initiatives.

"The [Utah] sheriffs tacitly infer that is a real threat. It serves to inflame the concerns unnecessarily," he says. "I don't believe for a moment that the Congress would allow draconian action."

Nor would the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that background checks and high-capacity magazines are not protected by the Second Amendment's right to bear arms, says Wayne McCormack, a constitutional law professor at the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Laws on "sawed-off shotguns, high-capacity magazines, rigorous background checks — none of those seem to be a problem for the Supreme Court," he said.

They are a big problem for the National Rifle Association, which has screamed about every gun control or safety issue for years. Given the Utah sheriffs' rhetoric, it sounds like they're staking a position based on NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre's demonization of Obama for his stance.

Well, Utah sheriffs, it would seem that law enforcement officers would be among the first to protect the rest of us from the rampant violence that plagues America.

Instead, they're trying to protect Americans' right to possess weapons that can kill dozens in a matter of minutes, as we've seen far too often of late.

Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at pegmcentee@sltrib.com, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter, @pegmcentee.

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