Two area sheriffs oppose expanded gun control

Two area sheriffs oppose expanded gun control

February 5th, 2013 by Beth Burger in Local Regional News

President Barack Obama greets law enforcement officers after speaking on ideas to reduce gun violence Monday at the Minneapolis Police Department.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond speaks to Times Free Press editorial board members.

Photo by Patrick Smith/Times Free Press.

Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth.

Photo by Randall Higgins/Times Free Press.

As President Barack Obama continues touting proposals to reduce gun violence, two area sheriffs said they oppose expanded gun control measures.

Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond and Bradley County Sheriff Jim Ruth are among 267 sheriffs across the country who have signed on to a conservative sheriff's association website protesting gun control measures. Hammond and Ruth are the only Tennessee sheriffs listed on the Texas-based Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association website.

"I would hope that the legislature at the federal level would not mess with Second Amendment rights. I feel very strongly about the rights of Americans under the Second Amendment," Hammond said. "I want to let them know how I stand as a sheriff."

Ruth said bans on guns and high capacity magazine do not work.

Gun control has taken center stage nationally in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. A 20-year-old gunman killed six adults and 20 children.

Richard Mack, founder and executive director of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, said the president's proposals are doomed to fail.

"None of this is going to solve anything, and it's not going to reduce crime and it's not going to reduce gun violence, said Mack, a former sheriff in Graham County, Ariz. "But more importantly, Congress doing this or the president doing this is against the Constitution."

However, not all law enforcement leaders and elected officials agree on the merit of gun control proposals.

Before the Connecticut tragedy, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg formed a coalition, Mayors Against Illegal Guns. More than 800 mayors across the country have pledged support, including Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield and Signal Mountain Mayor Bill Lusk.

"I know people are going to say the outlaws are going to get the guns and maybe they are. But at least we can make it a little more difficult and make guns more traceable than they are right now," said Littlefield, who joined the coalition before the elementary school shooting.

"We've put guns on a religious plane almost," he said. "They have become almost like the flag. We can't criticize guns."

Requiring background checks on all gun sales, reinstating an assault weapons ban, prohibiting armor-piercing bullets and issuing a 10-round limit on magazines are among the changes Obama is seeking.

"Armor piercing bullets. Why would anyone want to have armor piercing bullets?" Littlefield said. "The only reason someone would want to have them is to shoot someone with body armor and that's often police officers."

Chattanooga Police Chief Bobby Dodd said he favors background checks that also include serious mental health history.

"That's not shared nationwide and that's something that should be shared. All they check now is to see if you're a convicted felon," he said.

On the U.S. Department of Justice firearms transaction record form, buyers are asked, "Have you ever been adjudicated mentally defective or have you been committed to a mental institution?"

It's up to the gun buyer to answer truthfully.

Ruth said law enforcement should be able to access databases to identify those with serious mental illnesses.

Hammond said he supports background checks, but stopped short of suggesting including mental health background screenings. He said he would have to give that more thought.

"We need to stop trying to do something that penalizes law-abiding, God-fearing citizens and deal more with where the root of the problem is and deal with the criminal element that gets guns," he said. "The laws have to be toughened up and background checks have to ferret out those types of people."

He declined to weigh in on the assault rifle ban.

"There's some things that bother me that I'll have to take a closer look at," Hammond said of the president's proposals.

Mack argued background checks should be voluntary.

Asked why a private citizen would need an assault rifle, he said, "It's none of your damn business. I can own whatever gun I want. I'm an American. I'm a free man. ... I sure don't have to tell Mr. Obama why I have one."

There is also a fear that any changes to gun regulations would restrict access to firearms for citizens.

"I think many Americans feel that and it's a legitimate fear," Mack said.

Hammond echoed those concerns.

"I am concerned there is a move among certain legislators and among certain people at the federal level that would like to see all guns taken away from Americans," he said. "We have kind of gotten legislators who are trying to say, 'No, people aren't police.' But yes they are. American citizens need to police themselves."

Mack said he anticipates the number of sheriffs protesting gun control measures will increase.

"It has been going up everyday," he said.

The Tennessee Sheriffs' Association is getting ready to take the same stand, Hammond said.

On the state association's website, the following statement reads, "The sheriffs of Tennessee are strong supporters of the Second Amendment rights of their citizens and have taken an oath to uphold the constitution of the state of Tennessee, the Constitution of the United States of America, and the laws and ordinances of their counties and will fulfill that oath."

Despite all of the rhetoric, Littlefield remains hopeful some solution will come from the debate.

"I think the most dangerous thing we could do is just do nothing and think it will all die down and go away," he said.