New laws create dilemma for officers

Sheriff Seals: Tight controls ineffective
Feb. 04, 2013 @ 05:09 PM

With President Barack Obama proposing the most sweeping gun legislation in years, there have been many questions for law enforcement officers about how they would respond to and enforce potential new laws.

Sevier County Tea Party activist Steve Osborn placed an ad in the Jan. 20 edition of The Mountain Press asking Sheriff Ron Seals: “Since you are sovereign authority in Sevier County, will you stand firmly to defend citizens rights to keep and bear arms — as individuals — to defend themselves, their families, and others against criminals? And, will you join sheriffs across America who have vowed to stand firmly against government officials seeking to infringe upon that right?”

Seals, who was Sheriff of the Year for the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association, first said he joined in and supported the views expressed in a statement from that organization: “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. “

The statement notes the sheriffs association helped write the Tennessee Handgun Permit Law in 1994.

In an interview last week, Seals acknowledged he would have to look at any new law to determine whether it violates either the state or U.S. constitution. He does believe attempts at stricter gun control in other locations have been ineffective or have even backfired.

“Chicago’s got one of the strictest gun control laws and they’ve got one of the highest murder rates,” he said.

He said the first step for the federal government should be enforcing gun laws that are already in place.

One retired law enforcement officer offered a different perspective on the matter. Bill Dayton of Sevierville said one of the biggest misconceptions he’s seen is the idea that gun control supporters want to see all guns taken away from their owners.

“We’re not asking or telling people that anyone’s going to come and seize any guns, but I think current events and what’s gone on the past few years indicate we need some kind of gun control,” he said.

Most law enforcement officers support the Second Amendment, he said, but many also feel some guns don’t belong on the streets, whether they’re in the hands of criminals or civilians.

“I know most officers I worked with felt like I did, that certainly it’s the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns, but certain guns belong only in the and of law enforcement or the military,” Dayton said.

Dayton said he supports background checks on all sales, meaning he backs the move to close loopholes for gun shows and other transactions. He acknowledges, however, it would take new personnel and resources to do that.

He thinks limiting the amount of ammunition in magazines would also be a sensible step, noting it would limit the number of shots fired before an attacker at least has to reload.

“The extended magazines are something people don’t need, and I think most people would agree with that,” he said.

He believes the NRA, while enjoying wide support from gun owners and enthusiasts, isn’t representing their interests so much as those of gun manufacturers.

“The problem with the NRA is they’ve never been on board with anything,’ he said. “They seem to be looking after the gun manufacturers and that’s it.”

jfarrell@themountainpress.com