Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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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.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.