LIMA — For Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey, it’s a no-brainer.
If the United States Congress passes new gun control laws, including a ban on assault weapons for law abiding residents, he won’t enforce it.
“Let me make it crystal clear, the Mercer County Sheriff’s Office will not be confiscating firearms from law abiding citizens,” Grey said.
His position comes in defiance of the National Sheriffs’ Association, which represents more than 3,000 county sheriffs across the country. The NSA met this month in Washington, agreeing to support President Obama’s push for tougher laws to prevent gun violence.
That decision has caused a growing divide in the group, but how big of a split is debatable. The organization’s president, Larry Amerson, insists it is just a small minority of the nation’s sheriffs, but every day seems to bring more news reports of sheriffs across the nation who are speaking out against the decision.
Among them are at least four sheriffs from the Lima region – Sam Crish of Allen County, Al Solomon of Auglaize, Mike Heldman of Hancock and Grey.
“I’ve always taken the stance that people have the right to bear arms and to protect themselves,” said Crish. “I’m certainly not in favor of taking guns from law abiding citizens. That’s their right as it is now.”
Heldman recently wrote a letter to Obama, stating, “Any federal law which infringes on the right of citizens of Hancock County to keep and bear arms will not be tolerated, recognized or enforced by me or my office.”
The two sheriffs that have been the most vocal on the issue are Grey and Solomon.
“I do not believe that I am answerable to the president of the United States. I am answerable only to the citizens of Mercer County who elected me,” Grey said. “Every four years they get the opportunity to decide if they want to keep me or fire me.”
Grey maintains such a position does not violate his oath of office to uphold the laws of the United States. In fact, he argues that he is honoring his oath.
“If I am to uphold my oath, I must follow the Constitutions that say the Supreme Court has the final word,” Grey said. “Even many liberal members of the court have upheld the Second Amendment and I believe the court will continue to uphold it.”
According to a pro-gun-rights group that is promoting and tracking the opposition, there are now six state associations and 262 individual sheriffs who are on record opposing any new gun control measures.
“The president doesn’t have any more authority to write a law than I do, so he should leave it to Congress to write the laws and the courts to interpret them,” Grey said.
Both Grey and Solomon said they have been flooded with calls on the issue. While they don’t mind, they encourage people to contact lawmakers to voice those opinions.
“I believe in the Second Amendment and I think there are some things that can be adjusted besides just taking firearms away from the public,” Solomon said on Tuesday.
One of those things, Grey said, is taking better care of the nation’s mentally ill.
“I don’t believe the help is available to some that need it most. I have reservations about saying the mentally ill should be forever barred from having a firearm,” he said. “I certainly don’t want a mentally ill person to have one, but I do believe one can recover from mental illness with proper treatment/care.”
Amerson told National Public Radio that those sheriffs who say they won’t enforce laws they deem unconstitutional may be exceeding their authority. Others who support the sheriff’s association, such as Sheriff Ted Sexton from Tuscaloosa, Ala., argue that while gun ownership is a right, it can still be restricted. The right to bear arms, they claim, is not like other constitutional guarantees, such as the right to vote, or freedom of speech.
Instead of opposing any new gun control measures, Amerson told NPR that he wants the sheriff’s association to be at the table when the laws are being written.
“We’re going to be working on policy points — things that we think could be implemented, be really easily done and have an effect, a positive effect. Not every sheriff is in full agreement, but the vast majority of us are,” Amerson said.
Hardin County Sheriff Keith A. Everhart said his stance at the time is simple.
“The Hardin County Sheriff will enforce and uphold all of the United States Constitution as well as the Constitution of the State of Ohio,” he said in an emailed statement. “That is the oath I took and will live by.”
Obama's gun control proposal
Mercer County Sheriff Jeff Grey