Pine County received some national media attention this past week after Sheriff Robin Cole said he would not be enforcing any new gun mandates from the federal government.
Cole shared his views sent out to over 20 media organizations late last Tuesday explaining his decision. Since that time, the news went statewide and is on large media websites throughout the world. Cole’s stance has also received considerable attention on blogs on the Internet, some support his stance while others question how a sheriff can elect not to enforce a federal mandate.
Cole is out this entire week, the Sheriff’s Office said. In an interview with another media organization, Cole said support for his stance was going about 50-1.
One reliable website showed that 39 sheriffs are publically on the record opposing President Obama's plan to curb gun violence, but Cole is the only one from Minnesota to publicly state his opposition to it. Last Wednesday, President Obama proposed background checks on all gun purchases, passing a ban on military-style assault weapons and ammunition clips that hold more than 10 bullets.
Cole's full text of his letter sent to media is as follows:
"As Sheriff of Pine County, it is important for residents to know my position as it relates to the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. In the past week I have had several requests and one meeting on this matter. Normally I attempt to remain neutral on matters of politics but this issue transcends political division and I feel it appropriate to state my position.
"I believe that the right to keep and bear firearms is fundamental to our individual freedom and that firearms are a part of life in our county. The Federal Government has a constitutional role in the governance of our republic but the United States of America is a democratic republic of individual sovereign states. Each state has the absolute right to establish laws, within the confines of the constitution which is the supreme law of this republic, to regulate behavior.
"As Sheriff, I swore an oath to follow the Constitution of the United States and to enforce the laws of the State of Minnesota. I believe current state law is sufficient to protect the public safety while providing individuals the right to keep and bear arms.
"If the State of Minnesota desires to change current law, then it must do so through the legitimate process of legislation. In my opinion it is a moral sin to erode freedom through obscure regulation and administrative rules. I believe this is also true for both State and Federal Government.
"I do not believe the Federal Government or any individual in the Federal Government has the right to dictate to the states, counties or municipalities any mandate, regulation or administrative rule that violates the United States Constitution or it various amendments. I would view any such mandate, regulation or administrative rule illegal and refuse to carry it out."
Robin K. Cole
Pine County Sheriff
Richard Hodson, legal counsel for the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, had a different view of Cole's statement.
"He is basically saying, 'I'm not going to enforce something I don't have the authority to enforce,'" Hodson told the Star Tribune. "County sheriffs don't have the legal authority to enforce federal laws. There would have to be corresponding state law."
On Tuesday in a phone interview, Hodson likened a federal rule or mandate this way. The USDA has rules that you can’t sell rotten meat. That does not mean the sheriff has authority to cite them for this. “They would have to find a state crime being committed,” Hodson said.
Basically, Hodson is saying the federal gun laws would be one in which the sheriff does not have any authority to enforce.
Hodson said a letter was sent out to all state sheriffs regarding this since the issue came up last week pointing out this difference. He is not aware of any other sheriff in the state that has publicly stated their views against the gun control measures.
Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, said he has gotten several calls since there was talk about President Obama issuing executive orders on this issue and all callers said “Don’t take my guns away.”
Faust said every second year, the legislature looks at more gun control measures, but they typically get 30 votes in the House and fail, with many outstate legislators voting against.
County Commissioner Steve Hallan of Pine City said, “I have received many phone calls from my constituents, far more than I have ever received on any given issue, that are not in favor of the Sheriff's stance against possible federal laws on gun control. Many people are asking what he is thinking and how it is stating how it is harming Pine County. People seem very displeased that the sheriff would use a tactic like he did.”
“The sheriff stated 50 to one people are in favor of his stance on gun control. I have not had one person call supporting him," Hallan said.