Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald

By Chris Collins


Baker County Sheriff Mitch Southwick said his constituents spared little time Wednesday seeking his opinion of President Obama's latest efforts to stem gun violence.

The president announced 23 executive actions he hopes will help protect Americans against mass shootings such as the one in Newtown, Conn., last month in which 26 people died.

Southwick said he'd received calls and emails from people of all ages throughout the county. Many referenced a letter written by Linn County Sheriff Tim Mueller to Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden led a task force assigned to develop a strategy to address violence and tighten gun laws.

Mueller wrote that he and his staff would not enforce any regulations enacted by Congress or through the president's executive orders that would violate the constitutional rights of his Linn County constituents, specifically their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Other sheriffs throughout the state have sent letters supporting Mueller's position.

Southwick said that while he agrees with the sentiment behind Mueller's letter, he won't be writing to Biden.

"I have no intention of violating the Second Amendment," Southwick said. "I don't intend to take people's guns away."

But, he added, none of the president's executive orders announced Wednesday would take guns or ammunition away from law-abiding citizens.

The president's orders call for such things as making more federal data available for background checks and ending a freeze on government research on gun violence, The Associated Press reported.

The president also is calling for a national campaign for safe and responsible gun ownership, a review of safety standards for gun locks and safes and requiring federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.

Southwick, who was re-elected to his third term as Baker County's sheriff in November, said he thinks sensationalized reporting by the national news media is responsible for some of the reaction to the president's orders. Restrictions that the president will ask Congress to approve could be another matter.

"If it's a violation of the Second Amendment, I don't think we'll be participating in that," Southwick said. "I took an oath to uphold the Constitution and the Second Amendment is part of that."

Southwick said he doesn't believe a ban on assault rifles would make much difference in the way of ensuring safety.

"There are other issues," he said. "Mental health is a big one.

"I think having armed officers at the schools is great - but who can afford it?" he added.

Obama has asked Congress to consider reinstating the 1994 ban on so-called assault rifles, a ban that expired in 2004. He's also called for banning magazines that carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The plan, which would cost $500 million, also calls for universal background checks for gun sales, money to allow schools to hire 1,000 new police officers, counselors and psychologists, and penalties for people who buy guns from unlicensed dealers.

Southwick said, somewhat tongue in cheek, that it's too bad Obama hasn't been able to do for the rest of the economy what he's done for the sale of guns and ammunition, which the sheriff says have increased dramatically since the president was first elected in 2008.

"We wouldn't have an issue," Southwick said of the recession. "Everything would be going big guns."