NEW: Kentucky sheriff now says he would enforce gun laws approved by Congress
Sheriffs can't choose which laws to enforce, CNN legal analyst says
Tens of thousands of Facebook postings support sheriff
The controversy is over rules the Obama administration proposed Wednesday
An Oregon sheriff says he will not enforce any federal regulation that President Barack Obama lays out in his package of gun control proposals Wednesday.
Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller joins several other public officials across the nation who have decided to square off with the White House even before it outlines what its plans are for expanded measures.
Mueller sent a letter to Vice President Joe Biden this week saying he won’t enforce any federal regulation “offending the constitutional rights of my citizens.” He won’t permit federal officers to come to his county to enforce such laws either, he said.
Mueller’s defiant stand exploded into a groundswell of support. His letter – posted on the department’s Facebook page – earned more than 59,000 likes and shares – and was growing by the minute.
Over the weekend, Sheriff Denny Peyman of Jackson County, Kentucky, said that he too would disobey any directive from the administration. He told residents in a town hall meeting that the sheriff has more power than the federal government.
“They need to go back and study that. We are a commonwealth. I can ask federal people to leave, they have to leave. I can ask state people to leave, they have to leave,” he said.
But Wednesday on CNN, Peyman said he would enforce laws approved by Congress.
“If it goes through Congress, if it becomes law, if it goes that way, yeah, I’d enforce the law,” he said.
In Texas, a lawmaker said this week that he will introduce legislation that would make it illegal to enforce a federal gun ban.
“At some point there needs to be a showdown between the states and the federal government over the Supremacy Clause,” Republican Rep. Steve Toth told WOAI 1200-AM. “It is our responsibility to push back when those laws are infringed by King Obama.”
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Local officials don’t get to make that call, CNN Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.
“A sheriff does not get to decide whether laws are constitutional,” he said. “Unless a court invalidates a law, he’s obligated to enforce it.”
In any event, local police wouldn’t be responsible for enforcing federal gun laws, CNN Legal Analyst Paul Callan said.
“The FBI will be enforcing them, treasury agents will enforce them. It won’t be local police who would be out making sure federal gun regulations are enforced,” he said.
Obama’s proposals Wednesday largely draw on the work of a task force chaired by Biden.
An official familiar with the process said the president’s proposal will include universal background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Other recommendations by Biden’s panel include tougher enforcement of existing laws, legislators briefed by the vice president said Tuesday.
Support surprises sheriff
In Linn County, the support for Mueller’s letter caught the sheriff’s office by surprise.
“Sheriff Tim Mueller is humbled and amazed at the support people near and far have expressed to his letter. Thank you!” said a post on the department’s Facebook page.
A post by Jill Leiser Crowley of Eugene expressed the opinions of many.
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“Thank you for standing up for our Constitutional Rights!!!” it said. “You are doing the right thing for the people of Linn County - I can only hope other counties will follow!!!”
But Karin Hunt, another Oregonian, questioned the sheriff’s stance.
“I would expect (an) officer to enforce the laws of Oregon and the U.S.A. whether he agrees with the law or not,” she said. “That’s taking the law into your own hands.”
The White House knows it can expect a fight.
“Part of the challenge we confront is that even the slightest hint of some sensible, responsible legislation in this area fans this notion that somehow, ‘Here it comes, everybody’s guns are going to be taken away,’ ” Obama said Monday.
Getting any legislation passed may prove to be difficult.
The influential National Rifle Association, among other gun rights groups, has vowed to fight tooth and nail against any new gun restrictions – like an assault weapons ban, which the group’s president, David Keene, predicted Sunday wouldn’t make it through Congress.
Polls support change
Although some officials have come out against new gun control laws, Americans as a whole are looking for some sort of change after the Newtown, Connecticut, shootings last month that took the lives of 20 grade school children and seven adults.
By a 51%-45% margin, Americans questioned in a new Pew Research Center poll said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun rights.
And by a 52%-35% margin, a new ABC News/Washington Post survey indicates the public says it is more likely to support some forms of gun control after last month’s massacre. However, the polls showed continuing divisions along political and gender lines.
Still, one Oregon resident warned against passing laws that would conflict with the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.
“Constitutional changes must be made properly with Congressional and judicial approval, and by a majority of the citizens of the USA, not by the order of a tyrant in Washington D.C.!!!” said Rick Carter of Pendleton. “I stand with the brave Sheriff!”
The battle lines could not be clearer.
CNN’s Michael Pearson contributed to this report.