Sheriff won’t be drawn into gun debate

LISBON – Columbiana County Sheriff Ray Stone is unlikely to join the ranks of those county sheriffs who say they will refuse to enforce any changes in the nation’s gun laws they believe are unconstitutional.

“My job is not to interpret the law but to enforce it,” he said.

Stone’s comments came after he posted an open letter dated Feb. 7 to county citizens on the sheriff’s office Facebook page. Dated Feb. 7, the letter outlines Stone’s position on the coming controversy over efforts by President Obama and Congress to enact new gun-control laws in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The letter is a form letter prepared by the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association (BSSA), and he decided to adopt it as his position on the gun controversy after being asked his opinion on the department’s Facebook page. In the letter, Stone noted that while his oath is to “support” the U.S. and Ohio constitutions, he is also required to enforce duly passed laws by Congress and the state legislature.

“Ultimately, it is the United State Supreme Court and the lower courts that possess the power to interpret the laws and determine the constitutionality of the laws,” he wrote.

Stone has said before he supports the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms and Ohio’s concealed-carry law.

The sheriff decided to post the letter rather than continue getting drawn into online discussions on the topic.

“I’m getting besieged, like every other sheriff, with questions about what are we going to do if Obama tries to take our guns off us,” he said. “I’m not going to get caught up commenting on this on Facebook. If I start, I’ll be there all the time.”

Stone said has fielded phone calls on the subject from people and spoken with others he has run into, and he will continue to do so. He just prefers not doing so on the Internet because of the seemingly never-ending nature of most online discussions on the subject.

“I don’t really like it, but you have to keep up, and it has its benefits,” he said. “But we’re not going to use Facebook to chat back and forth with people, or we’ll be on Facebook all day.”

Stone has been criticized online by some for his decision to let the letter define his position. “There’s fanatics from the left and fanatics from the right, so you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he said.

While about 100 sheriffs from around the country have pledged not to enforce any new guns laws they deem unconstitutional, nearly all of the major law enforcement groups have supported some of the gun control efforts over the years, including a ban on semi-automatic rifles.

Stone indicated he does not intend to join those ranks, saying he will reserve judgment until a bill is passed. As for the 23 gun-related executive orders issued by President Obama several weeks ago, “some of them were good,” he said, such as improved access to mental health records for background checks and increased money for police to provide school security. Stone said they also need longer prison sentences for people who commit a crime using a firearm.

According to the letter, Stone and the BSSA believe a “comprehensive approach and societal change of attitude towards firearms are imperative. Training, education, safety incentives, mental health treatment and reduction of a culture of violence must be included in this approach. Please understand that emotions are running at a fever pitch but we cannot allow ourselves to fail on this most important issue,” he concluded.