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Evidently the national mouthpiece for the lobbying arm of the gun manufacturing industry isn’t the final arbiter.

Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803)

….It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department to say what the law is….

[emphasis added]

Nope, nothing there either about a county sheriff in out state Missouri.

There was a recent splash in the Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal about a sternly worded letter from Johnson County (Missouri) Sheriff Chuck Heiss (r) addressed to President Barack Obama. Supposedly there were other sternly worded letters from a smattering of county sheriffs across the country, though definitely not a majority of them.

There was a lead editorial [subscription required] in the January 23, 2013 Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal criticizing the Johnson County Sheriff for using his publicly funded sheriff’s website to express his political opinion.

In addition, there were two extensive letters to the editor in the same January 23, 2013 print edition of the paper taking issue with Sheriff Heiss’ (r) assertions:

Your paper recently published (Jan. 18) the full text of the Johnson County Sheriff’s public letter to the U.S. president. This letter seems very concerned about efforts of the administration to address some of the underlying issues that have led to several recent shootings throughout the U.S. The letter proclaims in a concluding sentence for sheriffs in this state to “rise to the defense and aid of all Americans should the federal government attempt to enact any legislation or executive order that … diminishes their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

Unfortunately a reader of that letter would learn nothing about the scope of this right, nothing about the administration’s proposals that concerns its author, and nothing on alternative policies to the problems of “gun violence in our nation.”

Certainly the letter cannot seriously be suggesting that the rights under the Second Amendment are absolute. It is impossibly difficult to find any constitutional right to be absolute. The U.S. Supreme Court suggested that certain limitations could be imposed on gun use and ownership when it only recently found government restrictions on an individual right to bear arms to violate the Second Amendment. Since these decisions are very recent (2008, 2010) we do not know the actual scope of these rights and thus we cannot know with any great certainty that the administration’s proposals would actually “diminish” Second Amendment rights. These proposals will need to be enacted and tested in the courts to see if they are ultimately unconstitutional. Thus, the letter’s concluding sentence may be little more than hyperbole, unless the author sees himself as having a power to provide an authoritative interpretation of the Constitution.

The letter objects to the “tone of (the) administration.” The reader of your newspaper will look in vain in an attempt to get a clear sense of this “tone”; there is no supporting specificity to this objection to the administration’s proposals. This newspaper’s readers would be better informed on these issues if there had been a mention of this website: http://www.whitehouse.gov/issu… Here there is a link to the full text of the president’s plan. Your readers can judge for themselves whether the administration’s proposals would unreasonably restrict a right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms and whether they would help to prevent another of these recent horrific acts of violence.

As for policy suggestions, the purpose of the letter may have been merely to defend the notion of a restriction-free Second Amendment. However, it clearly implies that a restriction-free right to bear arms is a significant means to prevent a society from being “overrun with criminal element.” Citing the impact of Mexico’s drug cartels upon that country may not support this argument. Mexico’s constitution guarantees the right to have arms. Though this guarantee explicitly permits restrictions on ownership, yet a significant amount of these cartels’ firearms come from the far less-restricted gun market in the U.S. A further counterbalance to the letter’s cited experiences of other nations are those of the many democratic countries, not so impacted by gun smuggling from the U.S., that do not guarantee an individual unrestricted right to keep and bear arms, and have far smaller homicide rates than the U.S., and are not apparently “ripe for government oppression.”

It would be good for this newspaper to encourage open discussion on this important issue. However, to reproduce only the full text of a public letter to the president that provides no information for the reader with which to assess its many unsupported assertions is disappointing and does little to further public debate.

Don Wallace


[letter reproduced with the permission of the author]

The second letter:

I’d like to express my strong disagreement with a letter sent to President Obama by Johnson County Sheriff Chuck Heiss, which appeared in Friday’s Daily Star-Journal. In his letter to the president, Sheriff Heiss assumes that the Second Amendment is an absolute right. For example, he says: “Any attempt to restrict these Second Amendment rights through executive order is unconstitutional and tantamount to an all out assault on the United States Constitution.” He also says that, pursuant to his responsibilities as sheriff of Johnson County, he will “with great vigor and conviction … urge (his) fellow sheriffs in the state of Missouri and across this great nation to rise to the defense and aid of all Americans should the federal government attempt to enact any legislation, or executive order that impedes, erodes, or otherwise diminishes (citizens’) constitutional right to keep and bear arms.”

In 2008, in a case called District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court for the first time in this nation’s history ruled that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to carry and bear arms – a fact that flatly contradicts Sheriff Heiss’s contention that “(t)he Second Amendment to the United States has long guaranteed our citizens the right to keep and bear arms and is central to our ability to live in a free society.” Nonetheless, the majority opinion, authored by Justice Antonin Scalia, recognized that there were limits to the rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment. “Like most rights,” Justice Scalia wrote, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” At the end of this paragraph, Scalia attached a footnote, which reads: “We identify these presumptively lawful regulatory measures only as examples; our list does not purport to be exhaustive.” Moreover, Scalia mentioned the possibility of banning particular types of guns – a subject that is particularly relevant in light of the recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., and current discussions about bans on assault weapons and high capacity cartridges. “It may be objected,” Scalia continues, “that if weapons that are most useful in military service, M-16 rifles and the like, may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause (“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.”) But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right.” Thus, nothing in the majority opinion in Heller would prohibit the president and Congress from placing what many people would consider to be reasonable restrictions on the Second Amendment right.

Jim Staab


[letter reproduced with the permission of the author]

That would indeed be a novel approach – letting, you know, actually facts find their way into a national discussion about guns and gun violence.


On threading the needle and being in favor of both the Second Amendment and gun control (January 23, 2013)