A troubling story appeared recently in Colorado Politics: The New Mexico attorney general sent a letter to county sheriffs and police chiefs, reminding them of their duty to enforce a new gun sale law that goes into effect on July 1. That last sentence should strike Coloradans as worrisome.
The situation is similar to the new Red Flag Bill in Colorado, which basically says that a judge could, after a hearing, temporarily seize guns in the hands of individuals deemed a very real threat to themselves or others. Other states have passed similar laws on “extreme risk protection orders,” and ours was passed only after the Democrats took back control of both the state House and state Senate. In response, several counties have declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuary Counties,” where the sheriffs have pledged to not follow the new law.
Which leads us, of course, to Aristotle.
I don’t want to argue the merits of a gun law. I certainly have an opinion, especially as a former military cop, and as a gun owner. But I’m not going to talk about that. I accept that proper regulation of weapons is both lawful and important. The sticky wicket (younger readers may want to google that one) is what the word “proper” means to people.
Aristotle argued that true justice is found when we treat similar things similarly and treat different things differently. For example, the number of “stalls” in men’s and ladies’ rooms at, say, a big store like Ikea. True equalitywould mean you’d have the same number of stalls for men andfor women. But justicewould mean more women’s stalls than men, because, well, you know.
So, what is justice in the case of the Red Flag Law? After Mr. Bush was reelected to the White House back in 2004, I was told by my Republican friends — when I complained about things — that “elections have consequences.” The people spoke, and so their will is for the majority party to follow its policy plans. “Get over it, sore loser” was a common refrain. Well, in 2018 the will of Colorado voters swept out all the statewide GOP folks and gave Dems working majorities in both Houses.
Am I therefore allowed to proclaim to those opposed to the current Democrats’ lawmaking efforts, get over it? To say elections have consequences? I’d certainly like to say that to the far-right people behind various recall efforts, months into the term. They are mad because the Dems who got elected are doing what they said they’d do, but that’s for another day.
I presume that the New Mexico AG sent his letter, at least in part, due to the public responses of several Colorado county sheriffs, who promised to ignore the new law in their “sanctuary counties.”
Here in Colorado we have elected officials, who presumably took an oath, openly saying they will disobey a duly-passed law, because they disagree with it. And if you happen to agree, well, then I’m going back to Aristotle. Can it be justice when a sheriff (or other elected official) declares his or her intention to violate the law, by refusing to enforce it? I ask this on guns, but the ramifications of such an act are far-reaching.
Which laws are you ok with your local cops ignoring?
If you think that justice comes from sheriffs consistently enforcing the laws legally passed and signed by the proper elected reps, I think Aristotle would be ok with that. But if you decide that some laws are “men’s stalls” and some laws are “women’s stalls” (Ed: are we done with the bathroom references?) and that the sheriff or police chief (or FBI agent, ATF officer, state police officer, etc.) can decide on their own what laws they will enforce, then you have created the mother of all slippery slopes. When I pulled someone over for speeding, it wasn’t because I decided that, for that person, I would enforce the Colorado Revised Statute that dealt with speeding. I did not believe I had any option. I ticketed old rust buckets and Porsches with equal enthusiasm.
And if you are a supporter of the Sanctuary County idea on the Red Flag Bill, I’d ask if you will be consistent or a bit of a hypocrite? Do you think, say, the Boulder County sheriff could, all on his own, decide that speeding tickets will not be issued in school zones? Or the sheriff of Delta county could adopt a policy of not arresting armed robbers? Of course not.
Elections have consequences! If you disagree with the actions of a state legislature, you have the proper tools before you to “fix” the situation — the next election. We don’t want leaders to pick and choose which laws to obey, rather we want to pick and choose our lawmakers.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.