Why Many Sheriffs Oppose Gun Control
From Press-Enterprise Some of Southern California’s most vocal gun rights advocates wear badges.
Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff and San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon have consistently opposed new gun control legislation. So does Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens.
In a telephone interview, McMahon said more gun control rules are not the best way to preventing gun violence.
“I generally oppose any legislation that puts any more restrictions or control on citizens having an ability to possess firearms,” said McMahon, who has been sheriff since 2012. “We still have people running around with guns that aren’t supposed to have them.”
In emailed responses to questions, Sniff wrote that while the courts “have long held that reasonable restrictions to the Second Amendment are both constitutional and also protect our communities … Many proposed firearms control bills are very poorly thought out, hastily drafted without appropriate expert input, and incorrectly proffered to the public as ‘making things safer’ in our communities.
“In some cases, these proposed bills actually make our communities less safe, and remove inherent rights of our citizens to self-defense, or worse, allow only the wealthy, elite or the well-off to protect themselves,” wrote Sniff, who became sheriff in 2007.
Three years ago, Sniff, a Republican like McMahon, sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., criticizing her proposed assault-weapons ban.
“In many ways your bill unreasonably impinges on the Second Amendment, and it focuses largely on purely ‘cosmetic’ features of legitimate sporting, hunting, and recreational firearms already in widespread use in our nation,” he wrote.
“The cosmetic issues alone cause far too much meaningless complexity for law enforcement officers, and worse, could cause common citizens to unintentionally commit crimes that have serious potential sanctions.”
California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is behind a ballot measure that would impose new rules on guns and ammunition, said that while he has enormous respect for the sheriffs and what they do, “This has been the argument for decades. I don’t know that they represent a different point of view than their predecessors, opposing law after law after law.”
Since the mid-1990s, when new gun laws were enacted, the gun murder rate in California has fallen 56 percent, more than double the rate of a national decrease in gun murders, Newsom said.
“I think these things save lives,” he added. “They can disagree … but the data does not support their point of view.”
Calls for gun control have escalated in recent years following a spate of mass shootings, including the Dec. 2 terror attack in San Bernardino in which a radicalized Islamic couple used assault-style weapons to kill 14 and wound 22. Congressional Democrats in June staged a sit-in on the House of Representatives floor in an unsuccessful effort to force a gun control vote.
California voters in November will consider Newsom’s ballot measure. Among other things, it would ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and set up a process for taking firearms from those who are legally barred from owning a gun.
Polling shows 89 percent of people supporting a process for those barred from gun ownership to relinquish their weapons, Newsom said.
This summer, Gov. Jerry Brown signed six gun control bills, including measures that require background checks for bullet purchases and ban semiautomatic rifles with magazines that can be ejected with a small tool. Critics said the “bullet button” was an end-around to the state’s ban on detachable magazines.
County sheriffs are elected officials in California with the authority to issue permits for civilians to carry concealed firearms in public. Sniff said that while he supports and encourages law-abiding residents to obtain concealed carry permits, “radical gun groups” believe he’s not issuing enough.
“The public still expects the sheriff to issue CCWs using good sense as well as reasonableness in making determinations of who is licensed and allowed by the department to carry loaded, hidden handguns into our public places,” said Sniff, who is a member of the National Rifle Association, the California Rifle & Pistol Association and Gun Owners of California.
As elected officials, sheriffs can accept campaign contributions. A check of donations to Sniff, McMahon, Hutchens and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell in recent years found no instances of contributions by the NRA or other gun rights or gun control groups.