Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County, Colorado has been out front in his opposition to the new gun control laws in that state. He led a delegation of sheriffs in testifying against the bills before the Colorado legislature earlier this month. Now he has announced that he doesn't plan to enforce the new laws - and he is within the letter of the law.
"Why put the effort into enforcing a law that is unenforceable?" Cooke told The Denver Post on Monday. "With all of the other crimes that are going on, I don't have the manpower, the resources or the desire to enforce laws like that."
Cooke said this is the first time in his law enforcement career that he has made the decision to not enforce a law.
However, Cooke said, if a person who uses a gun outfitted with a magazine able to hold more than 15 rounds in a crime, that person will be charged under the new law.
Both Dave Kopel, a professor at the University of Denver law school, and Richard Collins, a professor at the University of Colorado law school, agree that it is within a sheriff's prerogative to decide which laws are given priority for enforcement.
From Dave Kopel:
"His primary obligation is to obey the U.S. Constitution and the Colorado Constitution, and he appears to be especially conscientious in making sure he does so," Kopel said.From Richard Collins:
While it may be one of the first instances related to gun-control measures, sheriffs in the past have refused to uphold laws they did not agree with, such as prohibition, Jim Crow and immigration, Kopel said.
"He couldn't be punished for not upholding these laws, but he could be ordered by the court to uphold them," said Richard Collins, a University of Colorado at Boulder law professor. "Whether anyone would bring a lawsuit to get the court to order him is pretty uncertain."Given that Sheriff Cooke is one of the 62 elected (out of 64 total) sheriffs in Colorado, Kopel noted that the primary penalty for noncompliance would be either a recall or to be voted out of office so long as he is faithful to both the US and Colorado constitution.
Of course this just galls the gun prohibitionists in the Colorado legislature.
State Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, Senate sponsor of the universal-background-checks bill, said a sheriff unwilling or unable to fulfill the duties of the position should step down.That last statement is particularly rich coming from the likes of Sen. Carroll who has her eyes set on the governor's office.
"They are putting politics above their job," she said.