Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman wants to be perfectly clear on the issue of gun control.
“If the federal government ordered the confiscation of certain guns, I have been asked would I participate,” Hoffman said Thursday. “The answer is unequivocally no. I would not participate in the confiscation of guns from legal citizens.”
Hoffman said he has received dozens of phone calls and emails from county residents asking that question since President Barack Obama announced his plan for executive and legislation action to address gun violence earlier this month after the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
“People are demanding to know where I stand,” Hoffman said. “It’s been a question that I’ve been asked since I was elected to this job and it’s never stopped being asked.”
Hoffman said his answer has always been the same.
“I have worked to defend the Constitution my entire life,” he said.
Hoffman is frustrated that he and others in law enforcement have been put in this position of being questioned about their loyalty to the Constitution.
He puts the situation right on the president’s doorstep, saying Obama’s decision to use executive action to address gun violence and circumvent legislative and judicial branches has created a stir among many in Ravalli County and elsewhere.
The president announced recently that he will take some steps to address gun violence without congressional approval, including improving the existing system for background checks, lifting the ban on federal research on gun violence, putting more counselors and officers in schools and better access to mental health services.
His plan also called on Congress to renew a prohibition on assault weapons that expired in 2004.
On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill that would ban 150 specific military-style weapons, including rifles with flash suppressors or pistol grips.
The bill faces a tough battle in Congress.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., told U.S. News & World Report on Thursday that recent tragedies have shaken the nation and everyone wants to protect children and communities from violence.
“Enforcing the laws we already have on the books is a good first step, and it’s clear more needs to be done to address access to mental health care,” Baucus said in a statement to that publication. “Before passing new laws, we need a thoughtful debate that respects responsible, law-abiding gun owners ... instead of a one-size-fits-all directives from Washington.”
Hoffman said the last ban on assault rifles was ineffective and created a good deal of distrust among people who owned any variety of semiautomatic rifles.
“A Ruger ranch rifle has the same caliber and same action,” he said. “It fires every time you pull the trigger. Assault rifles are given that moniker by anti-gun folks, anti-Second Amendment folks.”
Reconsidering a ban of that style of rifle is part of what has people upset, Hoffman said.
“All that does is impact law-abiding citizens who follow the law,” Hoffman said.
And people are worried that if the ban on new assault rifles is passed, it might lead to a retroactive ban in which no one would be allowed to own one.
“People feel that is a natural progression,” Hoffman said. “If he’s willing to do this by presidential fiat, how much further will he go – the camel’s nose is that much further under the tent. What’s next?
“We all know that the left has always wanted to implement strict gun controls in this country without regard to the Second Amendment,” Hoffman said.
With that said, Hoffman doesn’t think the federal government is preparing to confiscate people’s firearms anytime soon.
“I don’t think that’s on the horizon,” he said. “But the moves the president has made and things that have been said in the national media do upset people and they want to know where their local law enforcement stands.”
“It appalls me that an American president has put local law enforcement in this position,” he said.
Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or email@example.com.