Sheriffs and the 2nd Amendment

March 27, 2019

by Joe Squadrito

Recently the national media has focused on sheriffs in some western states who either openly oppose or defy gun-control legislation enacted by their respective legislatures. The broadcast media, in some cases portrayed these sheriffs as openly defiant individuals in violation of their state laws and essentially in violation of their oath of office. These journalists are unaware of, or choose to ignore, the historic and constitutional provision attached to the office of Sheriff.

First, the office of Sheriff, carried over from the colonial period, predates all other law-enforcement agencies, which were created by either state or federal legislation.

The first part of the Sheriff’s oath of office is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Allegiance to his or her respective state constitution and laws are a secondary clause of the oath, as our system of government dictates federal law takes precedent over state and local laws or ordinances.

To further define the scope of authority, our founding fathers gave states authority wherein it is not “enumerated” by federal law. The scope of authority and enforcement is even further prescribed by jurisdiction, as in the broader the jurisdiction the less authority a law-enforcement officer has.

Thus a federal officer can enforce federal statues throughout the United States and it territories but cannot enforce respective state laws or local ordinances. State law-enforcement officers can enforce state laws and federal laws but only within their jurisdiction. Sheriffs can enforce federal law and state law but cannot enforce city laws or ordinances.

Local law-enforcement officers can enforce federal law, state laws and local ordinances. This was termed the “inverted pyramid” by my law professor during police academy training. It is and was intended to be a safeguard whose origins, in theory, were first described in the Federalist Papers and then made part of our constitution.

The sheriffs involved in this gun-rights controversy are fulfilling their oath of office by upholding the unchanged, but often challenged, Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. They are following the rules with respect to the “numerated” law as it exists, and they are giving the federal law precedent over recently enacted but yet unchallenged state law.

Given the current makeup of Supreme Court of the United States, I doubt that the Second Amendment will be amended or repealed any time soon. The western states that enacted restrictive firearms legislation are yet to have them tested through the layers of our judicial system. Until then, law-enforcement officials can and must follow existing laws giving the prescribed precedent to our federal constitution.

As a former sheriff and first-generation American, I understand the importance of our Constitution and its provisions and mandates. Throughout my adult life, both military and civilian, my personal feelings about firearms have been secondary to my vow to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the state of Indiana — in that order.

Joseph M. Squadrito, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, is retired from the Allen County Sheriff’s Department. Squadrito served with the department for 33 years, rising through the ranks before serving two terms as sheriff. He is a graduate of the charter class of the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy as well as the F.B.I. National Academy, the United States Secret Service Academy and the Southern Police Institute.


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