From Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County, Ariz., to Garrett County Sheriff Robert Corley, a handful of law enforcement officials across the country have garnered national media attention by putting politics in front of law enforcement and ignoring certain laws they dislike.
While the vast majority of sheriffs nationwide serve honorably, enforcing the laws and putting their lives on the line for our safety, a small number of sheriffs have begun to claim that, in their opinion, validly enacted state and federal laws are unconstitutional. These sheriffs have ordered their subordinate law enforcement officers to ignore the law of the land and enforce only the provisions the sheriff personally feels are constitutional. By stating he will selectively enforce the Maryland Firearms Safety Act of 2013, Sheriff Corley ignores the oath he took to uphold the U.S. Constitution, the Maryland Constitution and the laws of the state of Maryland — while putting us all in danger of proliferation of violent crime.
Recently, Sheriff Arpaio became a national laughingstock when U.S. District Court Judge G. Murray Snow struck down the sheriff's unconstitutional decision to selectively enforce federal immigration laws, stating that Sheriff Arpaio had been arresting immigrants at the expense of fighting crime. While there is little doubt that Sheriff Corley will eventually be reined in by the Maryland Judiciary, the risk of elevating politics over crime prevention cannot be ignored while we await the judicial process to play out.
In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, which claimed the lives of 20 innocent children and six innocent staff members, Gov. Martin O'Malley introduced the Firearms Safety Act to protect people like those schoolchildren and teachers from the scourge of mass murder by way of assault rifles, extended magazine clips and the dangerously mentally ill.
Is the legislation perfect? No. And will it require adjustments over time, extending the appropriate rights to law-abiding citizens? Yes. Nevertheless, the sheriffs of Garrett, Carroll and Cecil counties, who have all stated they will ignore the law, selectively enforce this lifesaving legislation at their peril and at the peril of the citizens they took an oath to protect.
Citizens cannot choose which laws to ignore and which to follow. The freedom we enjoy as Americans depends on predictable adherence to the rule of law. Likewise, sheriffs and county officials take an oath to uphold our laws; they do not have the right to pick and choose which laws they like most, and they certainly do not have the right to put our children and other vulnerable populations in danger of being murdered for fleeting political gain or public attention.
In a country dependent on the rule of law to protect civil rights and public safety, the nationwide trend of selective law enforcement and legislative nullification, which has unfortunately migrated to our state, is dangerous and distressing. We elect sheriffs, county commissioners or councils and county executives to protect us and to enforce our laws. We count on them to keep us safe, protect our rights and treat us fairly. Ignoring the law is a slap in the face to the citizenry and to democracy, and these individuals should be held accountable for their irresponsible and illegal decisions.
After years of ignoring the law, Sheriff Arpaio got his comeuppance in Arizona; how long will it take for the sheriffs of Garrett, Carroll and Cecil counties? Let us hope it does not take years, and that action is swift and decisive. Lives are at stake.
Jon Cardin, an attorney, represents Baltimore County in the Maryland House of Delegates. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.