|“If we are indeed to get America back, if we are indeed to return to the constitutional Republic we were meant to be, then it will be up to us, the Sheriffs of America, and hopefully other local officials, as well, who have the guts and dedication to tell the feds that we will no longer tolerate their intervention, control, meddling, mandates, or criminal behavior.”
-Sheriff Richard Mack
In 1993, Congress passed a bill known as the Brady Act which ordered Sheriffs and police chiefs to conduct background checks on people purchasing handguns. The Federal government wanted to send a message that they were getting “tough on crime.” Little did they know that they would face fierce opposition from local officers and Constitutional defenders.
The Brady Act had multiple problems:
- Background checks had not succeeded in reducing crime in similar programs at the local level in the past.
- Congress did not provide funding to carry out its orders so local officials had to devote valuable time and resources to something that probably wouldn’t work. It took officers away from doing other important police work in their communities.
- State officers who didn’t comply were subject to criminal penalties. Officers could literally be arrested if they failed to enforce the Federal mandate.
- It was unconstitutional. The Constitution explicitly states that people have the right to bear arms and the 10th Amendment states “that any powers not expressly granted to the Federal government is that of the states and the people.”
So Sheriffs took action and filed a lawsuit. Richard Mack, a courageous rural Sheriff from Graham County, Arizona was the first to file a lawsuit against the Federal Government. Others soon followed suit, including Sheriff Jay Printz from Montana. The case, Printz v. United States, gained international media attention and brought gun rights and state rights to the forefront of the conversation. They fought all the way to the Supreme Court.
In a landmark victory, the Supreme Court ruled that the Brady Act was indeed unconstitutional. In the ruling, Justice Scalia stated, “The Federal government may not compel the states to enact or enforce a federal regulatory program.” Amidst fan mail, hate mail, and international media attention the Sheriffs never faltered in their vision and were able to uphold the U.S. Constitution, maintain autonomy within their jurisdictions, and protect the people.
This victory shows that Sheriffs are uniquely capable of protecting the people. They are the only elected – rather than appointed - law enforcement officials in the U.S., which makes them uniquely accountable to the people. They are under oath to “uphold and defend” the Constitution and as Richard Mack says, they are the ultimate authority and “the last line of defense between the people and the criminals, both from the streets and from the Federal Government.”