Opinion: Are we returning to the Wild, Wild West?

AP File Photo/Elliot Spagat / A Mexican smuggler guides a Haitian family across the Morelos Dam over the Colorado River from Los Algodones, Mexico, earlier this year to Yuma, Ariz., on the other side.

Mark down Hamilton County District Attorney Democratic candidate John Allen Brooks as the latest to intimate that he won't carry out a law he disagrees with.

Tennessee's "Human Life Protection Act" - expected to become a law in August after the United States Supreme Court struck down the federal right to an abortion - would ban most abortions in the state, except those to save the life of the mother.

Subsequently, if a prosecution occurs over an abortion being performed, it would be the person performing the procedure who is charged - not the woman who chose it. But the woman could be called to testify in a trial.

"I think that the Supreme Court made a mistake," Brooks said, according to WDEF. "To subject a woman to having to testify for something about that is absolutely wrong. I can't see [myself] ever allowing that to happen. If the people in Nashville want to come over and prosecute such a case, then they're welcome to."

Increasingly, across the country those sworn to uphold the law - be it about abortion, illegal immigration, gun restrictions, voting laws or otherwise - have said they'll refuse to do so because of their own beliefs. Too often, there's little pushback on their decisions.

It reminds us of the lore of what's been dubbed "The Wild West," a period in the American West between roughly 1866 and 1890. Without explicit laws and lawmen in place, people often did what they chose.

"Guns and lawlessness were a part of the frontier experience from the very beginnings of westward expansion," an entry in Encyclopedia.com titled "The Wild West" explains ... "Violence was a regular part of life in the West, which had few laws or authorities."

We're not suggesting Brooks' intimation, if he were elected in August, would sweep in a period of rampant lawlessness. But it does make citizens wonder - in an ever more lax and secular country - how far those who promise to follow the law would go if they simply don't like the statutes in place.

In Hamilton County, fortunately, there are no abortion clinics, so the chances a Hamilton County district attorney would be involved in such a case are low.

Brooks' opponent, Republican Coty Wamp, differs.

"A district attorney takes an oath to enforce the law," she said, according to WDEF. "If you do not agree that you're going to enforce our state law, you're not qualified to be district attorney. So when I'm asked are you going to enforce this statute as it's written now or as it's going to be in effect in August, absolutely."

Today's lawlessness starts at the very top. President Joe Biden and most of his fellow Democrats have declared they have no intention of enforcing certain immigration laws, which don't permit people coming into the country to stay without a legal process.

Indeed, during the 2020 campaign, he pledged a "commitment to asylum-seekers and refugees."

A year and a half into his term, he has cut Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) funding and resources, failed to enforce illegal immigration and and directed ICE lawyers to close thousands of illegal immigrant cases.

During the Trump administration, officials in so-called "sanctuary cities" across the country said they would not provide information to federal agents about a person's immigration status, particular those who have been arrested in connection with a crime. The consequences of not doing so, as many who follow the news know, resulted in a number of murders and other violent crimes perpetrated by those sheltered in such cities.

Closer to home, a Gwinnett County, Ga., prosecutor said he wouldn't punish anyone for distributing food and water in voting lines. A widely misstated part of a 2021 change in the Peach State's voting laws is that voters cannot have food or drink in line as they wait to vote. But they are not prohibited from having food and drink in the line; indeed, election officials are allowed to provide self-serve water stations. The stipulation is that, within certain distances of a polling place or individual in line, political groups and others cannot the provide food or water.

In Nashville last year, District Attorney Glenn Funk said he would not prosecute teachers and school officials who enforced mask mandates in defiance of an executive order by Gov. Bill Lee that allowed parents to opt their children out of such mandates.

Meanwhile, a Vermont state's attorney said he won't prosecute the possession of addiction therapy drugs, several prosecutors in New York and Michigan said they would not prosecute prostitution if it is consensual, and - on the other side of the mask mandate coin - a Pennsylvania district attorney said he would not prosecute violations of such a mandate.

If a law proves to be ill-considered, there are legislative ways to change it or improve it. But for elected officials to flout laws - or suggest they might flout laws - because they don't like them undermines our whole trust in the rule of law. And that's not something our already torn country needs today.