Sheriff shows disdain for legal system when he refuses to enforce the law - The Buffalo News
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Sheriff shows disdain for legal system when he refuses to enforce the law

Maybe there’s something in the water. Over here is a growing number of parents holding their children out of state tests, even though it hurts their children, and over here is a horde of protesters who vow not to obey the state’s gun control law known as the SAFE Act. Worse yet, joining in that promise is the Erie County sheriff – a man sworn to uphold the laws – making it abundantly clear that he’s not going to enforce the law.

Let’s hope he doesn’t also find something disagreeable about the state’s robbery laws. Or assault or homicide statutes.

There is nothing new about Sheriff Timothy Howard’s unique view of his responsibilities as one of the county’s top law enforcement officers. He made his disdain for the law plain during his re-election campaign last year and made sure that voters knew he had no intention of enforcing it.

It’s hard to believe anyone would seek a career in law enforcement and then willfully, foolishly set about undermining the law he swore to uphold.

It’s nothing less than shameful, and it doesn’t matter if you are a supporter or an opponent of the law. Once sheriffs or other law enforcement officers decide they can simply disregard the duties of their offices depending upon their own political beliefs, we are all in trouble.

But that’s what Howard has done. He has decided that he is not only sheriff, but chief justice, as well. Next week, perhaps he will decide to be a jury.

This law was bound to be challenged in the courts – real courts, not the one in Howard’s fantasies – and it has been. In January, U.S. District Judge William Skretny largely upheld the law, while invalidating portions of it. On Wednesday, a state judge in Albany dismissed a challenge to the law.

Appeals are likely and few would be surprised if the law wound its way onto the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court. If the law is truly unconstitutional, it will be wiped off the books. Those are the appropriate channels for challenging a law, not the office of an underperforming sheriff.

As to the protesters, it’s no surprise that some people don’t like the law, though it has the support of the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers. Nor is it really surprising that they might engage in civil disobedience, though however they want to dress up their objections, this is not a matter of civil rights or even constitutionality.

Just as there are recognized limits on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, there are limits on the rights of gun ownership. It’s not a question of whether the line exists, but where it should be.

For some reason, Second Amendment supporters have a hard time acknowledging that the Bill of Rights doesn’t describe a free-for-all, or perhaps they see advantage in feigning ignorance of that undeniable, judicially recognized fact.

Either way, for now the SAFE Act is the law. Some of it may be difficult to enforce or even unwise, but that’s what courts and elections are for.

New Yorkers who expect other people to obey the law should be willing to do that themselves. And sheriffs who swear to uphold the law should do that or find other, more appropriate work.

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