Over the last few days, I have spoken with two candidates for the office of Sheriff of Vanderburgh County, Jim Tucker and David Wedding. The main topic of my conversations with each of them has centered on the issue of the Second Amendment and a Sheriff’s role in shielding the citizens within their County from criminals within as well as from overreaching government without. Before I get into their comments on the matter, let me first lay out my views on the subject, so the reader understands my bias.
This issue dives to the heart of why the office of Sheriff is an elected, rather than appointed, position in most States, including Indiana. A Sheriff maintains his office by will of the people of his jurisdiction and is there to serve them. His oath of office includes a statement of his fidelity to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of the State of Indiana. The reason for this oath is a simple one. It was traditionally meant to remind the newly elected Sheriff of his duty to uphold the Supreme Law of the Land above all else, and that every law he is asked by his State or Federal Government to enforce must be subservient and consistent with the Supreme Law of the Land. Any law passed by Congress or State Legislature, or any directive handed down by a Federal or State bureaucracy which circumvents, abridges or otherwise violates the Supreme Law, it is within his discretion to refuse to enforce.
Discretion is an important consideration when talking about a Sheriff’s powers, and it’s one that’s too often overlooked. If a Sheriff were merely a ceremonial role, or if his job were merely to enforce any and all laws passed without prejudice or discretion until told otherwise by the State or Federal Supreme Court, his position would simply be an appointed one. Either the Governor or County Council would appoint a Sheriff and he would apply all State and Federal Law without further consideration. However, due to his unique position as an elected official, sworn to uphold the Constitution, his deliberations on which laws are enforceable becomes more serious, and we begin to see just why his position is an elected one.
Just as a soldier takes an oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic, and has a duty to refuse to follow unconstitutional orders even from superior officers, a Sheriff has a similar duty to refuse to enforce orders from the Governor, the President, State Legislature, US Congress, or any bureaucracy giving an unconstitutional order. How could it be otherwise? To enforce an unconstitutional law would surely be unconstitutional itself and a breach of the oath of office. By enforcing unconstitutional laws or directives, an officer is actually breaking the Law himself.
My interactions with the two candidates for Sheriff has revealed a contrast in the way they each view the office and in their understanding of Constitutional law. I asked each of them the same question regarding the Second Amendment, the issue of Sheriff discretion or “nullification” of unconstitutional law, and I posed to each of them a hypothetical scenario where they were asked by a Federal bureaucracy to confiscate the weapons of law-abiding citizens in Vanderburgh County – as was done during the Katrina disaster when the National Guard, the New Orleans Police, and the Sheriff’s Office of Orleans Parish went door to door confiscating and destroying the firearms of lawful citizens.
I first asked Mr. Tucker, “What’s your position on the duties of the office of Sheriff and where do you stand on the subject of nullification of unconstitutional Federal Law? Would you enforce a hypothetical order from DHS to confiscate the legal firearms of the citizens of Vanderburgh County?”
Here was his answer: “Mr. Linzy, Thank you for your question and concerns. I see that your question is divided in to two parts and I will do my best to answer both of those. First the duties of the sheriff are defined in IC: 36-2-13-5. As your elected sheriff, I will execute and discharge these duties to the best of my ability without prejudice.
Secondly I support and will defend the Constitution of the United States of America…. [On the issue of the hypothetical], first of all both you and I know that congress will never support such a bill to infringe on any Americans 2nd amendment rights guaranteed in the constitution. But since this is a hypothetical situation here is my answer. The DHS does not author law. Therefore any directive issued by them that would be unconstitutional would not be enforced and would be questioned by my administration to the highest level of the judicial system.”
I asked the same questions of Mr. Wedding. Here was his answer to the first part: “Brad; I am an active hunter and gun owner, so as a private citizen I enjoy my weapons. If I am elected sheriff; I will take an oath where I will swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Indiana, and that I will faithfully, impartially and diligently discharge the duties of County Sheriff according to law and to the best of my ability.”
After pointing out to Mr. Wedding that he has perhaps mistakenly forgotten to answer my final hypothetical, he offered to call me and discuss it, which he was gracious enough to do. We spent the better part of an hour conversing about these issues. I cannot offer an exhaustive overview of that conversation here, but I will hit the main points. Mr. Wedding stated he would not answer my hypothetical because he did not want to be painted into a corner. He repeatedly told me, “I don’t believe that the government will ever take our weapons.” When pressed him to give an unequivocal answer whether he would work with DHS or FEMA to confiscate the firearms of law-abiding citizens if there was a disaster in our area and they directed his office to help them in that endeavor, he would still not answer “no”, repeating instead that he doesn’t believe it would ever happen. Reminding him of the whole purpose of the mental exercise of a hypothetical question, I gave him one last chance to answer the question definitively. He did say at that point that he could maybe envision a scenario that “would have to be crazy” and he would “have to know a lot more details about it.” Reminding him the details of this hypothetical involved him helping a Federal agency confiscate the firearms of lawful citizens, he still would not amend his comments further. He did conclude by reminding me that he “supports the right to bear arms” and that he is an “avid gun owner and member of the NRA.” He also asked me to treat him fairly and not misquote him. I assured him I would not, but informed him that he had failed to give the answer I sought and that would reflect in what I wrote about this conversation. He acknowledged he was ok with that.
In conclusion, while I have never met either of these candidates for Sheriff, I feel like I’ve gotten a good sense of who they both are, and I must say, while I thought Mr. Wedding seemed like a gentleman and a hard working family man, and while I appreciated the first part of his answer to my question, I have some very serious problems with his refusal to answer my hypothetical about gun confiscation. Simply saying “I don’t believe they would ever do that” is really not an answer. There is a long time between now and the election. I hope Mr. Wedding sits down and has a nice long think about this issue and changes his mind and answers this hypothetical question closer to a manner in which Mr. Tucker answered it – with an unequivocal “no”.