Local News

February 10, 2013

Sheriffs state position on gun control

While the nation debates stricter gun control measures and Congress is poised to consider additional legislation, sheriffs locally say they are, for the most part, just staying out of the way.

Whitfield County Sheriff Scott Chitwood and Murray County Sheriff Gary Langford both provided a copy of the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association’s position when asked about their views on the topic. The position states the sheriffs will uphold their oath of office to support the Constitution, will “stand by the Second Amendment” and will “aggressively oppose” federal and state legislation that “infringes on law abiding citizens’ right to bear arms.” It also states the sheriffs agree to support legislation that penalizes criminals who use firearms during the commission of crimes.

The Georgia association is one of at least five state sheriffs associations (including those in New Mexico, Florida, Utah and Colorado) that have pledged to uphold and defend the Constitution, including the Second Amendment, in the wake of the debate that reached new heights after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults plus himself at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., last December.

Neither sheriff locally is making a public, Utah-style pledge to defend the Constitution with their life, if necessary, to prevent federal officials from “descend(ing) upon our constituents and tak(ing) from them what the Bill of Rights ... has given them.” That was what members of the Utah Sheriffs’ Association said in a letter to President Obama dated Jan. 17.

Chitwood said whatever is decided at the federal level won’t directly affect his job. Federal officers, not county sheriff’s deputies, enforce federal laws, he said.

He does have opinions on some of the gun control issues that have been debated, such as a ban on “assault weapons” — a somewhat politicized term used to refer to certain kinds of semi-automatic firearms — as well as more stringent requirements for gun ownership.

“It’s not going to remove the criminal element within our society that we deal with every day,” he said. “There are background checks that are done now. You’re not going to stop the black market. Any laws that are proposed only affect law-abiding citizens. Law-abiding citizens do not break the law, generally speaking, so all these proposals are affecting the criminal element who generally speaking do not purchase weapons by legal means anyway.”

Chitwood is in his 20th year in office.

Langford said he doesn’t have an opinion on some of the specifics of the issues being debated, but he supports the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association statement.

“We support the Constitution and the Second Amendment, and we don’t want criminals to have firearms,” Langford said. “We’re going to do everything we can to keep them from having them.”

Langford said he’s basically just watching and waiting to see what happens.

“I’m trying not to get involved too much in the federal part of it,” he said. “I would do what the law says that we have to do.”

Langford said since he’s so new to the sheriff position — he defeated longtime sheriff Howard Ensley in November and took office on Jan. 1 — he’s still working through some of the initial changes he’s having to make to get his administration in order. Not to mention the day-to-day law enforcement operations he would be tasked with anyhow, he said.

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