Rob Douglas: Growing disrespect for the law


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

The juxtaposition of two news accounts this week concerning public officials subverting the legislative process from opposite ends of the political spectrum illuminates America’s growing disrespect for the rule of law.

In the article “Routt and Moffat county sheriffs say they won’t, and can’t, enforce new Colorado gun laws,” the Steamboat Today reported that Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins, Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz and Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, all Republicans, declared they won’t enforce three controversial gun control bills passed by Democrats in the Colorado Legislature that were signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, on Wednesday.

According to the Today, the sheriffs think the new laws limiting ammunition magazines to 15 bullets, requiring universal background checks for firearm purchases and enacting fees for background checks “won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals and instead will punish law-abiding citizens.”

In the article “Obama turning to executive power to get what he wants,” the McClatchy Newspapers reported that President Barack Obama is evading Congress “with a frequency that belies his original campaign criticisms of predecessor George W. Bush, invites criticisms that he’s bypassing the checks and balances of Congress and the courts and whets the appetite of liberal activists who want him to do even more to advance their goals.”

According to McClatchy, Obama “delayed the deportation of young illegal immigrants when Congress wouldn’t agree. He ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence, which Congress halted nearly 15 years ago. He told the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, deciding that the 1996 law defining marriage as between a man and a woman was unconstitutional. He’s vowed to act on his own if Congress didn’t pass policies to prepare for climate change.”

To conclude that Republican sheriffs thwarting a Democrat state Legislature in the same way a Democrat president is thwarting congressional Republicans is nothing more than well-deserved political sauce for the gander — as tempting as that might be — requires ignoring the evidence mounting across the country that public officials and private citizens are, with good reason, showing increasing disrespect for the rule of law. In fact, on most days you can find numerous reports of Americans disregarding laws because they’ve lost respect for the legislative process.

From businesses and states refusing to cooperate with Obamacare, to counties pushing back against state hydraulic fracturing mandates, to municipalities resisting state and federal stormwater laws, to farmers and ranchers ignoring environmental regulations placed on them by every level of government, the undercurrent beneath the widespread disrespect for a growing number of laws is that the laws are illogical, ineffective and serve to punish law-abiding citizens.

In short, our national disrespect for the law is escalating proportionally with the increasing number of nonsensical laws and regulations that burden everyone and every jurisdiction they touch while rarely achieving the stated goal.

Americans have awakened to the reality that most legislation today is drafted for no other reason than to placate vocal and well-financed special interest groups from every color of the political rainbow. At all levels, legislators pass laws, provide tax breaks and cut checks for every resident, coalition and business association that enriches a campaign fund or whines before a televised hearing. Meanwhile, those lawmakers pat themselves on the back for “solving” problems that didn’t require a government solution in the first place.

So while the sheriffs exercise their lawful discretion to ignore gun laws they think are ineffective and Obama exercises his lawful discretion to ignore a range of laws he thinks are unjust, our elected representatives need to understand that by continuing to pass unnecessary, illogical and ineffective laws that burden average citizens who — unlike the sheriffs and Obama — can be prosecuted for deciding they won’t follow a law, they are contributing to the growing disrespect for the rule of law in America.

Our elected representatives also need to grasp the reality that a nation that loses respect for the law quickly can slide into anarchy.

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John St Pierre 4 years, 1 month ago

This country from its beginnings has a long history of the vocal well healed and financed getting what they want or ignoring what they don;t want..... Can you mention any president who was not accused in one way or another of the same actions as Obama??? The very land we occupy today was won at times not by following the law... and much of U.S. history was done by many who did not follow any laws but made their own as they went....

Democracy has its pain's especially when your side lost....


Steve Lewis 4 years, 1 month ago

Rob, I think it is more accurate to say we, as a population, have less respect for our elected officials. Polls bear that out at the national level. I'm not so sure we have a widely held disrespect for the laws themselves. As John points out, presidents throughout our history have found ways around their congress whenever they could.

Your example of local reactions to fracking is actually a story of communities ADDING their own laws for oil and gas operations. It is the counter-argument to that part of your text that holds regulation as bad. It is a case of Colorado communities saying more regulation is good.

There are a few letters today disagreeing with our Sheriff Wiggins' position on gun law enforcement. I appreciated the online post that Wiggins made to the Pilot article. It better explained "probable cause" may not exist to enforce the new 15 round magazine limit (existing magazines are accepted, and new magazines show no date). I do think probable cause will exist where it matters more - in the import and sale of new magazines on the commercial market. His intent was not clear there, but if the Sheriff is loathe to enforce the law in the larger market as well, I expect our Colorado Bureau of Investigation will replace his effort.

Frankly, given his conviction, I think the Sheriff made the right decision in being vocal even after the law passed. He could have chosen to have his department ignore these laws quietly. I prefer that he enforce the magazine law to the extent possible, but failing that I appreciate that he is making his position a matter of public knowledge and debate.

We are shaping Colorado the way it should shaped, with open discussion and votes. No anarchy required.


John Weibel 4 years, 1 month ago


I think that Rob is correct, in that in many instances laws are put in place to protect or build peoples business models, and people understand it.

In adding local restrictions to Fracking, people understand that maybe industry has helped to exempt Oil and Gas from rules others must follow. So they see that the government has been co-opted by an industry with an agenda, to shape the laws to benefit them.

Whereas that is an extreme case of an industry getting the government to exempt a group from the law. More often it is the case that Laws are set up to protect industry from competition - adding barriers to entry.

In agriculture, the USDA has ruled that it does such a good job at testing for mad cow Dis-Ease that no one is allowed to do independent testing here.

From the state level, the rules state that Yogurt has to be mechanically packaged and sealed. This makes it very expensive to enter the marketplace and limits competition. Where as slowing down and following other safety protocols would allow individuals to package yogurt safely.

While the laws may not be directly crafted to cut checks for well funded interest groups, sometimes they are crafted to add requirements that help sell products or services.

From a discussion with another parent, while picking up my son, I learned that in the current incarnation of the Building Codes, requires a sprinkler system in order to comply with the code. Somehow the county decided that this code went too far and would have made homes too expensive.

Then building code states that a non-conforming structure can not be attached to a conforming one without a firewall. Safe livestock animal handling usually requires different dimensions than does a building designed for humans. In addition, all the numerous old and charismatic barns in the valley, would be hard pressed to have an engineer say they can handle the snow wind and seismic loads of Routt county, without great expense of measuring every beam. Yet there have been many engineered buildings that have failed the snow load.

If the building is simply brought up to fire codes on fire issues (electrical and heat sources), there should be no real reason to require the waste of resources that either engineering a structure would require or building a firewall. From a sustainability standpoint, Boise Idaho, realized that some of these older structures would be hard pressed to meet current codes. Yet to not allow their use is a far less environmentally sound option.

Generally the people who generally write those codes are ones who directly benefit from adding additional "safety" items to construction.

So yes, may of the laws on the books are written to protect industry.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 1 month ago

"Our elected representatives also need to grasp the reality that a nation that loses respect for the law quickly can slide into anarchy."

What we're sliding into isn't anarchy, it's some sort of corporate-fascist police state. The law says that our telco customer data is to be treated as sacrosanct. The fourth amendment says our communications are to be treated as sacrosanct. When Bush was caught warrantless-wiretapping the entire country, no congressional investigations occurred, and no special prosecutor was assigned; then the telcos were granted full immunity, both going forwards and retroactively. Then Obama extended the program, making the surveillance state bipartisan consensus. I guess the government just waives any laws it finds inconvenient, any more. Kinda like certain Sheriffs.

I'm not sure if it's irony, or poetic justice, that the warrantless surveillance state managed to inadvertently take down CIA director Petraeus as collateral damage. If it isn't already a snake eating its own tail, just wait 'til all those domestic surveillance drones come on line. How can we respect a system whose lawlessness threatens our security more than the terrorists? Or do anything about it, unless we organize resistance via carrier pigeon?

But the big motivator for decreasing respect for the law, is how unequally it's applied. "Too big to fail, too big to jail" means that instead of enforcing the laws, our government has decided to turn our economic fate over to a bunch of known-yet-unprosecuted criminals, because surely letting them bring the global economy to its knees again would be less disruptive than prosecuting them and letting the free market pick the winners.

How can any self-respecting citizen respect a system of laws which has degraded to the point where it literally puts the criminals in charge of our finances? But the result won't be anarchy -- fist sign of that, and it's martial law and bye-bye democracy.


Fred Duckels 4 years, 1 month ago

When the Dems took office Rahm Emanuel could'nt wait to set the tone for the administration by stating that one never let's a crisis go to waste. Since then we have been constantly trying to fight off a deadline or address the latest incident by enacting sweeping legislation. Take Obamacare which was forced on an us with reckless abandon, the administration to this day has'nt a clue what is going on but keeps making up new regulations daily similar to our AH debacle. This will probably end up with debt beyond our wildest dreams.

But let's get to the point, all this gamesmanship keeps us from talking about tahe debt and deficit, which will render all this foolishment to be inconsequential. We are in a crisis now and it ain't guns or gays or whatever the latest fad may be, it is money!


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 1 month ago

No, it's jobs. By not adopting austerity (until now with the sequester), our debt as percentage of GDP (the only measure of debt which matters) has actually decreased in recent years; whereas in Great Britain austerity measures have increased their debt as percentage of GDP -- meaning that even though they lowered their debt, they also shrunk their economy such that servicing that debt now consumes a greater percentage of revenue.

Putting America back to work would increase the size of our economy, continue to lower debt as percentage of GDP, and decrease our debt service payments as percentage of revenue. Our increase in debt under Obama is primarily the result of Bush destroying the economy. The fix is not to focus on debt, which leads to economic contraction; but to focus on jobs, which leads to economic growth. Getting our economy growing again through job creation, would cause our deficit to take care of itself, due to increased government revenue from the expansion of the tax base.

Unlike Greece, America can spend our way out of recession because we have our own currency. While printing more money could potentially get our economy back in order, we're running out of time as the world moves away from the Dollar as the global reserve currency. The more this continues, the less anyone is interested in U.S. Treasury bonds (which is how we create more money); printing more money accelerates this process (QE3 anyone). I'm afraid we're missing our window to stimulate the economy back to health, if we don't move soon we lose our ability to do anything but destroy society through austerity, once the Dollar loses its status as the global reserve currency and we can no longer borrow at today's near-zero interest rates.

Which is already well under way; take China as one example. Instead of converting foreign trade to Dollars, China now has agreements with Russia, India, Brazil, Korea, and others to conduct transactions in one or the other countries' currency. China is also selling off its US debt and converting it to gold. If this country doesn't get its act together soon (by which I mean wasting any more time on austerity / cutting the social safety net, and focusing on job creation instead), we'll be stuck trying to pay our debts with massively devalued currency, at which point we're screwed.


Fred Duckels 4 years, 1 month ago

Nice talking points Eric but your cohorts have half the nation on the Govt dole in order to guarantee a dependable voting bloc. Are they going to abandon their security in order to get jobs. They may feel very comfortable right where they are. If the borrow and spend model is what you say I'm sure that providing some examples of success will be very easy. Canada has stopped the reckless behavior and is doing very well.


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 1 month ago

Much of the nation on the dole happen to be gainfully employed, by the likes of Wal-Mart. I doubt that any but a small minority are happy to game the system; most Americans have a solid work ethic and would be employed if only there were jobs available. Look at the numbers of jobs lost in the recession, subtract the number gained since, factor in a larger working-age population, and just try telling me all those folks on the dole are just lazy.

Government stimulus in the form of infrastructure spending not only gives an economic return from the infrastructure greater than the capital invested, but the jobs created increase demand for goods and services, causing businesses to start hiring again instead of sitting on trillions of dollars of capital currently sidelined when it's needed most. Raise the minimum wage to get the gainfully employed off the public dole.

I say it's time to put America back to work, instead of cynically grousing about how citizens are voting for free stuff and not having to work. We all know from history, that provided full employment, America has the most productive workforce in the world. Blaming the victims as freeloaders when massive numbers of jobs are eliminated, has no basis in history and is downright un-American.


Fred Duckels 4 years, 1 month ago

Eric, Your talking points are straight from media matters. Are we getting info from the same source that told us Obamacare would not cost us one dime? This group has probably not even read the health care act yet but have now moved on to greener pastures. I'm still waiting for examples of success by spending beyond our means. This fuzzy math sounds good around election time just like a lottery ticket is enticing..


Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 1 month ago

I don't read Media Matters, preferring to form my own opinions. Contracting the economy in the midst of a recession through austerity, is about the stupidest thing imaginable (and this opinion I form from having taken economics in College), and anyone who disagrees just needs to look at Great Britain for all the current evidence they need -- that's the fuzzy math.


John Weibel 4 years, 1 month ago


While the age range of people in the workforce might be greater today than in the past, the labor participation rates are declining - masking what would be a much higher unemployment rate.

Maybe, looking at how employers are taxed on employees they have would help create jobs. Taxing employers to fund unemployment - when much of the problem is caused by outsourcing or technology, is wrong.

Unfortunately, the government can not create jobs, by taking money from this generation or by making so many future generations indentured servants. The government is not the answer, trying to remove obstacles that make it hard for business' to operate would be a far better way to increase jobs.

Why would the USDA not allow small independent processors to test their product for Mad Cow Dis-Ease? The only reason I can think of is that they are protecting the corporate interests that control almost all of the meat processing, making it hard for small business to compete. Those small business' are the driving force of job creation. What can the government to do help small business' start up?

That is where the tax revenue will come from to keep this country from going into receivership. Infrastructure to move all the wonderful crap made in China? I suppose we expect to live at a higher standard than the rest of the world forever, without working for it. The debt economy is dying and needs to be paid down, historically it always happens and the federal reserve is simply stalling the unwinding of debt that happens cyclically for as long as the records have been kept and the paper banking system has existed.



Eric J. Bowman 4 years, 1 month ago

"Unfortunately, the government can not create jobs..."

Sure it can. Who do teachers, firefighters, cops, forest rangers, clerks of court, judges, list goes on, work for, if not the government? If Obama hadn't radically decreased government employment, we wouldn't be half as bad off as we are now, because all those workers spend money, which creates private-sector jobs. Take away public-sector jobs, and guess what? Private-sector jobs disappear, exactly what we've seen happen in America.


Fred Duckels 4 years, 1 month ago

Eric, Still waiting for examples of success from countries spending beyond their means? Britian is one small negative example but I want to see the positive success stories. You ain't got em. Maybe you could try your theory out on a small scale be getting into business,


John Weibel 4 years, 1 month ago

I suppose that was misstated as it can not create wealth. It can create short term jobs at the expense of future generations.

Their is no positive equity created by government jobs and in most cases a loss of equity/real capital or wealth occur.

We should just have the government take over all jobs and ensure everyone is fed, safe and educated. Make sure that everyone has equal prosperity. That way no one needs to worry about working hard to get ahead.

Anything the government creates has to be taken from somewhere else.

We can look at the story of Robin Hood who stole from the rich to give to the poor, but really Robin Hood took back excessive taxes and gave them back to the taxpayers.

It is simply legalized theft, taking from one and giving to another through taxation or better yet printing of money - which the government does not do a private corporatin does in the US.

It really is not a topic that can be discussed with you as you have your beliefs, i have mine their does not seem to be any chance of reason stepping in.


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