It’s Sheriffs’ duty to challenge unconstitutional laws

“I do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of United States ...” is the first line of Colorado County Sheriffs’ oath of office. Every one of us takes our oath very seriously.

On May 20, the Durango Herald published a confusing editorial. Initially it suggested that the 55 elected sheriffs who signed on to a lawsuit against the state’s unconstitutional gun control bills have no right to challenge the narrow majority of the Michael Bloomberg-influenced state Legislature.

Then three paragraphs later, the Herald concedes we “have a right to question the actions” of our lawmakers and that “courts have the final say.” That is exactly what we are doing – taking the unconstitutional bills to court.

Also, the board isn’t clear about “exactly why 54 sheriffs are so worked up” (the lawsuit now is 55 sheriffs). Then let us explain.

As elected sheriffs and the chief law enforcement officers of our respective counties, we have an obligation to challenge potentially unconstitutional laws on behalf of the citizens of the state of Colorado. That is part of the oath we took to the Constitution, and it is our mission to preserve the foundation upon which this republic is built. We are using the appropriate, constitutionally granted legal channels to challenge these laws that we believe violate the Constitution.

This lawsuit is not about being slighted or offended by the state Legislature. Some of us are offended by established speed limits, but those speed limits don’t violate the Constitution nor are they unenforceable. We believe these gun control bills are both unconstitutional and unenforceable, which puts both the public and law enforcement at risk. Therefore, again, we have a duty to challenge them.

The Herald wants readers to believe, “Nothing in either law directly imposes on them (sheriffs), other than the general obligation they have to enforce the law.” Besides the serious fact that we believe these laws violate our citizens’ constitutional rights, these laws would be impossible to enforce.

We have a fiduciary responsibility to the citizens of our counties. They elect us to set priorities and allocate resources accordingly. The sheriffs’ priorities and resources are focused on catching murders, rapists, child molesters, drug dealers, burglars – the evil element in our society – not the law-abiding citizens these bills target.

These bills do nothing to make Colorado a safer place to live, to work, to play, to raise a family. Instead, these misguided, unconstitutional bills, will have the opposite effect because they greatly restrict the right of decent, law-abiding citizens to defend themselves, their families and their homes.

If laws such as these gun-control bills are unenforceable and do not reflect the priorities of our constituents, then we have a duty to residents not to waste precious taxpayers’ resources on them. That’s why some of us won’t.

This isn’t just a few rogue sheriffs looking to score political points. We are professional law-enforcement officers with about 1,200 years of collective experience, including La Plata County’s Duke Schirard, who has 39 years under his belt, Sheriff Dennis Spruell (Montezuma County) 32 years, Sheriff Sue Kurtz (San Juan County) 31 years, and Sheriff Jerry Martin (Dolores County) with 27 years in law enforcement.

Most of the rest have between 20 and 40-plus years experience, are college-educated and graduates of the FBI National Academy and/or the National Sheriff’s Institute. Despite all this experience, the Legislature wouldn’t let most of us speak. The governor wouldn’t meet with us. Our only recourse is a legal challenge.

To be honest, we wish this lawsuit wasn’t necessary. We’d rather be enforcing good laws rather than fighting laws we believe do nothing to make our communities safer and are unconstitutional, but we took an oath to defend the Constitution and our citizens. There is nothing confusing about that.

La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard, Montezuma County Sheriff Dennis Spruell, San Juan County Sheriff Sue Kurtz, Dolores County Sheriff Jerry Martin are writing on behalf of the 55 sheriffs who are plaintiffs in the case Cooke et al vs. Hickenlooper.

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