Sheriffs need to uphold our laws, rather than decide what they are

There is a provocative and dangerous threat to the rule of law gaining steam as political advocates promote the new “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement. Proponents encourage local law enforcement officers to unilaterally ignore gun safety, background check, and firearm regulations that are contrary to their political views. Anyone who believes that equal protection under the law is the cornerstone of our democracy should be concerned to see sheriffs in a handful of states vowing they will not comply with or enforce state laws they do not personally support.

As the sheriff of Multnomah County in Oregon, my duty is not to write laws or decide if they stand under the Constitution. My job is to respect the process and enforce our laws to ensure public safety. The courts have upheld, time and again, reasonable restrictions on firearms. Even Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Supreme Court, emphasized that like most rights, “the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”


It is up to our legislators to balance our Second Amendment rights with the public safety needs of all our communities across the nation as they draft our laws. It is up to the courts to weigh in if they overstep. I have deep respect for sheriffs in other jurisdictions working to meet the public safety needs of their constituents. However, refusing to comply with or enforce gun safety laws sets a dangerous precedent.

It weakens public trust in law enforcement when we cherry pick which laws to enforce and which laws to ignore or even defy. When someone disagrees with a particular law or policy, there are a number of ways to challenge it by going to court or lobbying legislators to change the law. If that fails, they can elect new lawmakers. The Constitution guarantees these rights to all citizens so we can live in a country governed by laws.

As someone who handles a gun in my job each day, I respect the Second Amendment. I also know that Oregon has strong gun laws make our state safer for all our citizens, including the men and women who serve in law enforcement. I have seen far too many families, including those of fellow law enforcement officers, changed forever by unnecessary gun violence.

My state has a rich history of responsible gun ownership. I firmly believe that there is no inherent conflict between the Second Amendment and common sense gun safety laws that bring together responsible gun owners, law enforcement officers, and political advocates on both sides of the issue to forge solutions that make sense for our nation. What is truly dangerous is guns in the hands of people who should never have them. In my line of work, I am glad that Oregon has enacted strong gun safety laws that protect both innocent citizens and law enforcement officers alike.

No single law will prevent every shooting, just like no traffic law will prevent every road death, but sensible gun laws save lives. I enforce gun safety laws to protect my family, my colleagues, and my community. I urge other members of law enforcement to respect our system of government and do their job without political prejudice. Our safety, our professional integrity, and the democratic rule of law depend on it.

Michael Reese serves as the sheriff of Multnomah County in Oregon.