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ST. CHARLES, Mo. – Efforts at the national and state level to pass new gun-control laws have stirred up an unintended backlash – local officials who are not only rejecting the new legislation, but actively "nullifying" gun-control laws already in place.
Police Chief Mark Kessler of Gilberton Burough, Pa., is among more than 200 law enforcement officers, state lawmakers, county officials and concerned citizens who gathered Friday at the annual convention of the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, or CSPOA, in St. Charles, Mo.
Among the hot topics at the conference: examples of local and county officials who have declared gun-control laws already on the books null and void in their communities.
On Jan. 3 of this year, Kessler drafted a "Second Amendment Protection Resolution" for his little town of roughly 800 residents, which, when passed by city officials a few weeks later, Kessler told the conference, "nullified every single gun-control law in the nation."
"I have a very unique view," Kessler said. "If you want to own a firearm, carry a gun under your jacket or over your jacket, the Second Amendment is your concealed carry permit, period. … It has nothing to do with self-defense; it has to do with [freedom from] tyranny."
Kessler told the conference, "Nullification is the key. We just have to tell them, 'That's it.' I drew my line in the sand back on Jan. 3. … One person can make a difference; you just need to do something about it."
But apparently, Kessler is not alone.
Michael Peroutka of the Institute for the Constitution, an attorney and former Constitution Party candidate for president, also told the conference about Carroll County, Md., which on May 22 adopted a resolution declaring it a "Second Amendment sanctuary county."
The resolution declares the Maryland Firearms Safety Act of 2013, or MFSA – which reportedly bans the sale of 45 types of rifles and magazines and requires law-abiding citizens to submit to licensing fees, background checks, fingerprinting and renewal fees – clearly violates the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution along with Article 2 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights.
The resolution further declares that the unconstitutional provisions of the act will not be enforced in Carroll County.
The resolution quotes Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Paper No. 78: "No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm, that the deputy is greater than his principal; that the servant is above his master; that the representatives of the people are superior to the people themselves; that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid."
The Board of County Commissioners then resolved, "Carroll County Government will not authorize or appropriate government funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing any element of the MFSA that infringes on the right of the people to keep and bear arms."
After making a few exceptions for provisions affecting felons, the mentally ill and so forth, the resolution also states, "The Board herein declares null and void within Carroll County, elements of any and all international treaties, including the United Nationals Arms Trade Treaty (UNATT) that infringe on the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms."
Peroutka argued that far from undermining the rule of law, the local police and county officials taking these stands are actually supporting constitutional law and fulfilling their oaths to defend the founding document.
"When a peace officer refuses to enforce an unconstitutional act," Peroutka said, "the peace officer is not breaking the law, but upholding the law."
Peroutka quoted the 1886 Supreme Court decision Norton v. Shelby County: "An unconstitutional act is not law; it confers no rights; it imposes no duties, affords no protection; it creates no office; it is in legal contemplation, as inoperative as though it had never been passed."
He further quoted the 1803 case of Marbury v. Madison: "All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void."
"These [gun-control measures] are not laws," Peroutka concluded. "They are unconstitutional acts. You have the authority and duty to nullify this."
"It's a start. They're to be saluted," Larry Pratt, president of Gun Owners of America, told the CSPOA conference. "The county of Carroll – among many others in the nation now, happily – is pointing out you have very limited authority, federales, and if you're going to do a bust here, you're going to need local authorities, and it isn't going to be available in Carroll County, Md., and I'll bet from what I hear here today, its not going to be available in a lot of other counties either."
As WND reported, the purpose of the conference is to equip sheriffs, peace officers and public officials with information and public support to carry out their oaths of office – specifically, to uphold the U.S. Constitution – recognizing that in the case of federal overreach, the county sheriff may be the last line of defense in protecting Americans' constitutional rights.
"We are going to train and vet them all, state by state, to understand and enforce the constitutionally protected rights of the people they serve, with an emphasis on state sovereignty and local autonomy," explained CSPOA Founder and Executive Director Sheriff Richard Mack. "Then these local governments will issue our new Declaration to the Federal Government regarding the abuses that we will no longer tolerate or accept. Said declaration will be enforced by our Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers.
"In short," Mack said, "the CSPOA will be the army to set our nation free."
Mack is more than familiar with fighting federal overreach. The former sheriff of Graham County, Ariz., in 1994 Mack joined six other sheriffs in challenging a provision of the federal Brady Bill placing the burden of its background checks on local sheriffs. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to strike down the provision.
Police Chief Larry Kirk of Old Monroe, Mo., told WND, "In the past few years we have seen many of the citizens of this country become concerned over the direction it has taken. We have watched personal rights being eroded and a disconnect developing between citizens and officers working in law enforcement.
"I wanted to find other officers that shared my concerns," he continued. "I wanted to be able to work with our sheriffs and other peace officers in educating the citizens and others in our career field on the powers of the sheriff's office and what is needed for us to stand on guard to protect our rights and those of our fellow citizens. The CSPOA is the organization at the front of this movement.
"The people of my state are seeing the overreach of government at the federal level and want to know where their sheriffs will stand," he concluded. "The people of this state need to hear this message, and the sheriffs of this state need to hear it. Sheriffs and officers need the support of their communities, and we need to support them. This is the organization that can help educate us all on the proper roles that we should play and what we can do to stop the encroachment on our liberties and unalienable rights."
"We already have hundreds of police, sheriffs and other officials who have expressed a desire to be a part of this holy cause of liberty," Mack explained.
In fact, CSPOA maintains a growing list of – at last count – 18 state sheriffs associations and more than 450 sheriffs across the country already taking a stand against what they perceive as attempts by the Obama administration to enact unconstitutional gun-control measures.
As WND reported, Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is among those after telling a local radio host the federal government is "going to have a problem" if they expect him to confiscate guns from private citizens.
"I took [multiple] oaths of office, and they all say I will defend the Constitution of the United States," Arpaio told Mike Broomhead of KFYI Radio in Phoenix, Ariz. "Now if they're going to tell the sheriff that he's going to go around picking up guns from everybody, they're going to have a problem. I may not enforce that federal law."
Broomhead pushed the man sometimes called "America's toughest sheriff" even further, asking Arpaio if the feds passed a law banning ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, would his deputies confiscate such magazines?
"No," Arpaio said. "My deputies, I said before, I'm going to arm all my deputies – a month ago I said before this – with automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons. We're going to be able to fight back. … I don't care what they say from Washington."
Larry Pratt told WND he supports sheriffs taking a tough stand.
"The county sheriffs need to act and make new deputies to stop federal authority in the counties," Pratt said. "There is a misconception in our time that the court somehow is the arbiter of what is constitutional; that's not true! Every official that raises their right hand and says they're going to adhere to the constitution, seek to protect it to the best of their ability, 'so help me God' – that's something that they're all obligated to do."
Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."