Area sheriffs oppose gun-control proposal

Thursday, February 7, 2013
A man fires off a round from his Sig Sauer .380 on Wednesday afternoon at the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Apple Creek shooting range. (Laura Simon)

After each of John Jordan's five election victories, the Cape Girardeau County sheriff has taken an oath he never has taken lightly -- to protect, defend and preserve the U.S. Constitution.

That's why, Jordan on Wednesday said, he will refuse to enforce gun-control policies being pushed by President Barack Obama, and it won't be a breach of that promise.

"It's not going to happen in Cape County," Jordan said. "I took an oath to defend the Constitution. I'll work with presidents, governors, whoever we have to. But an executive order that supersedes the Constitution is not worth the paper it's signed on."

Jordan has joined several Missouri sheriffs and more than 100 others nationwide resolute in their stance not to enforce the gun-control laws Obama laid out before Congress last month. The president's sweeping, $500 million plan includes requiring background checks for all gun sales and a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to curb gun violence in the U.S.

The plan has been described as the most comprehensive effort to tighten gun laws in 20 years and a response to more frequent mass shootings, like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School and Virginia Tech, the deadliest school shootings to date.

An array of handguns including a 9-mm, .22, .45 and .380 wait for their turn during target practice Wednesday at the Missouri Department of Conservation's Apple Creek shooting range. (Laura Simon)

"We don't have to agree on everything but it's time to do something," Obama said to a group gathered in Minneapolis on Monday. " ... Weapons of war have no place in our streets or in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers. Our law enforcement officers should never be outgunned on the streets."

But Jordan, a Republican, and several other Southeast Missouri sheriffs don't see it that way. Those who oppose the president derided his plan, calling it an attempt to capitalize on tragedies in hopes of advancing what Jordan called a liberal agenda.

"There are enforceable laws on the books right now," Jordan said. "You don't penalize the masses for the actions of a few ... ."

Scott County Sheriff Rick Walter, the only Democratic sheriff in the area, could not be reached for comment.

Darin Shell, also a member of the GOP, just assumed the sheriff's post last month in Bollinger County, also cited the oath of sheriff as his rationale for opposing the president's initiative.

"I took an oath to defend the Constitution and that's what I'm going to do," he said.

Shell noted the Missouri Sheriffs Association is drafting a letter to send to Obama, similar to the one it sent last month to Gov. Jay Nixon. In that letter, association president J. Kent Oberkrom said gun control is a local issue, not a federal one, and should be dealt with closer to home.

While tragedies like the one in Newtown, Conn., when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults, are horrific, Shell said, that doesn't place the blame on the law-abiding residents who own guns legitimately for protection.

"If it's a violation of the Second Amendment, I'm not going to to enforce it," Shell said.

Republican Sheriff Gary Schaaf of Perry County, echoing several in opposition, understands that schools need to be made safe. But throughout history, examples of school violence exist that did not happen because of guns.

"Just banning guns isn't going to stop it," he said. "If they want to do something to stop mass shootings, they need to look at giving us access to some mental health records."

Thousands of mental health records go unreported to the FBI, Schaaf said. If better records were kept, he said, and law enforcement had access to those records, they'd better be able to identify those in background checks to more effectively prevent these types of school shootings. For example, if someone had been on a psychiatric hold, that could buy police time to look into it further.

But Schaaf stopped short of saying he would not enforce the laws if they pass.

"We'd have to come up with some kind of program to deal with it," he said. "I guess saying I would enforce it reluctantly would be the best way to put it. I don't know how hard I would go out looking, though."

With the opposition of a powerful National Rifle Association, and a divided Congress in which Republicans control the House, Jordan doesn't believe the laws will pass. He believes that people -- not computers -- should be more involved in the process. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS] checks available records through several federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

Jordan said in older times, local sheriffs decided who could have a gun and who couldn't.

"The human aspect is almost out of this thing and we're relying on computers to protect the citizenry," he said. "How does Washington, D.C. know who should be allowed to carry a gun here and who shouldn't? We have a lot of good laws. These just wouldn't be good laws."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

216 N. Missouri St., Jackson, Mo.

710 S. Kingshighway, Perryville, Mo.

202 High St., Marble Hill, Mo.

Map of pertinent addresses

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