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Gunning for a Fight

Idaho lawman: “We, as sheriffs, have to decide upon ourselves if laws are unconstitutional.”

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Including plenty of diatribes against the U.S. government, prayer to remember those who have given their lives to defend the Constitution, and a liberal dose of conservative politics, three west Idaho lawmen--and a counterpart from eastern Oregon to round out the armed quartet--told a Payette town hall meeting Feb. 20 that they would try to "keep the peace" at the standing-room-only event. But before the evening was over, the sheriffs representing Adams, Malheur, Payette and Washington counties had riled up the crowd by declaring they would deny federal access to gun registrations, decide for themselves which laws were constitutional or unconstitutional, and even talked about creating an armed "posse"--a formal list of citizens that lawmen could turn to when things took a turn for the worse.

"Yes, I've had a posse proposal sitting on my desk for a while," said Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff. "I was waiting for this meeting to see what the pulse was."

Pulses and tempers ran high for two solid hours as Huff, Adams County Sheriff Ryan Zollman, Washington County Sheriff Matt Thomas and Malheur County, Ore., Sheriff Brian Wolfe each took the stage at the packed-to-the-gills Payette High School Auditorium.

"Have you seen this bill from Feen-steen (sic)," said Huff, butchering the last name of California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein (pronounced FINE-stine), the lawmaker who wants to prohibit certain semi-automatic weapons and ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds. "That's absolutely crazy," he said.

In spite of repeated attempts by audience members to correct Huff's mispronunciation, he continued to call the senator "Feensteen" on four more occasions. In fact, Huff struggled with a few more words through the evening, finding it impossible to pronounce "prohibition" and "parochial," without some help.

But Huff laughed off his difficulties with the language, instead zeroing in on President Barack Obama's "Now Is the Time" executive orders, issued Jan. 16: a 23-point plan to curb gun violence, including one recommendation that would allow doctors to talk to their patients about guns in their homes.

"I think that's absolutely ridiculous," said Huff.

Another of Obama's executive orders that would make "relevant data available to the federal background check system," took another verbal beating from each of the sheriffs.

"My name would be on that list that they would want because I have a lot of guns and I'm not giving them up," said Zollman, the newly elected sheriff of mostly rural Adams County. "I can tell you all here tonight that I will not allow any information to be shared regarding weapons possessed or held by my office."

Washington County Sheriff Thomas echoed Zollman's pushback.

"I would tell [federal agents] quite simply that that's not happening today, and it would be best if they left our county," he said to cheers from the 500-plus crowd.

Malheur County Sheriff Wolfe took the federal pushback one step further, saying he had gone as far as tossing federal agents out of his jurisdiction.

"Yes, there have been times when we asked federal authorities to leave our county," he said. "They performed an illegal entry once, and I told them to get out. Since then, we've worked things out."

Wolfe told the gathering that as he was preparing his remarks for the Feb. 20 town hall, his daughter approached him to remind him that her current seventh-grade U.S. history studies might make her better prepared to offer constitutional insight.

"She said, 'If you're talking about the U.S. Constitution, I should be the one going. Not you. I know more than you do,'" said Wolfe. "Perhaps she's right."

Indeed, her father and his fellow lawmen continually invoked the Constitution, though their references to it changed throughout the evening. At the beginning of the town hall presentation, the sheriffs used the phrase "as our Constitutional rights guarantee," but by the end, that line had morphed into "as our God-given rights guarantee."

Huff tossed some more verbal red meat to the crowd when he said that he knew better than the president, governor or most other lawmakers when it came to interpreting the Constitution.

"We, as sheriffs, have to decide upon ourselves if laws are unconstitutional," he said.

While Huff's remarks may have been strong rhetoric, David Leroy--former Idaho attorney general, former lieutenant governor and current Boise attorney--told Boise Weekly that the comments may have missed the mark on how our nation makes, interprets and enforces the law.

"We require public officials to take an oath to be faithful to state and federal constitutions when they're sworn into office," said Leroy. "The impact of that is that even a sheriff must obey the laws as interpreted."

Huff also told the Feb. 20 gathering that he answered only to his constituents, "Not the governor; not the president."

"The sheriff is on stronger ground there," said Leroy. "Federal executive orders are indeed mandates to federal executive officers and not local officials."

When asked his opinion about proposals to limit ammunition magazines on assault weapons, Huff said, "In my world, the more rounds the better. The less I have to reload the better."

Wolfe grabbed the microphone to also rail against President Obama's calls for magazine restrictions.

That's about the time that New Plymouth Republican Sen. Monty Pearce took to the stage to chime in.

"Obama has defied and walked all over the Constitution," said Pearce.

Pearce was joined by his fellow District 9 legislator, Republican Rep. Judy Boyle.

"I sure didn't vote for Obama and I'm pretty sure you didn't either," she said to cheers, which erupted into a standing ovation.

Boyle then introduced yet another legislator who'd made the trek to Payette County: Republican Rep. Mark Patterson, who represents Boise's District 15. Patterson, who up until recently was best known for stretching the truth--neither his claim to be a graduate of the University of Southern California nor a professional road-racing cyclist is true (BW, Citydesk, Dec. 18, 2012, "Mark Patterson: Stretching the Truth, Inaccuracies and Falsehoods")--told the Payette gathering that he knew he was "on the right side of right" when it came to the right to bear arms.

"And that's why I'm personally working on some new legislation that will protect everyone here," said Patterson. "And when you see my gun bills come up before the Legislature, I need you to travel to Boise to support me."

Huff said he was "constantly being approached" by his constituents, saying their "inherent rights were being threatened" by the Obama administration.

"And that's why I've been approached by many of those citizens to adopt a posse program," he said. "I'm seriously looking at keeping a list of armed citizens if the need arises."

Huff will be able to build up his support at his next big public event, a so-called "Patriots Night," where he'll share the microphone with Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America. The $10 admission to the Saturday, March 23, event at McCain Middle School in Payette will also include a unique drawing: four guns will be raffled through the evening. Tickets are $10; three for $20. Magazines not included.

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