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Some W.Va. sheriffs take defiant stance on gun laws

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - As Congress begins its discussion of proposed gun control legislation, some West Virginia sheriffs have declared they will not enforce any laws they believe violate the Second Amendment.

Boone County Sheriff Randall White on Monday wrote a letter to President Barack Obama.

Josh Nelson, the county's newly elected Republican delegate, posted a copy of the letter on his Facebook page Tuesday afternoon, where it has been "liked" and "shared" hundreds of times.  

"It is with all due respect," White wrote. "I wish to inform you that so long as I am sheriff of this county, I will not, nor shall I ever support any alterations to the Constitution of the United States or any of its amendments, specifically the right to bear arms."

White wrote that the government's money and time would be better spent "punishing the few citizens who commit crimes involving firearms." He suggested increasing prison time for individuals charged with gun crimes, saying those individuals make up a very small percentage of the population.

Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner told the Beckley Register-Herald earlier this week he would not enforce any gun laws passed by Congress.

Tanner said he is charged to defend "the entire Constitution, including the Second Amendment."

"It's incredibly stupid for anyone to assume that society has become so advanced you no longer have the need or the responsibility to protect yourself or your family," he told the newspaper. "That is absolutely not true."

Several calls and messages left for White and Tanner were not returned Wednesday.

Sheriffs across the country are making similar statements, USA Today reported earlier this week.

Richard Mack, a gun rights advocate and former Arizona sheriff who now lives in Texas, is urging the defiance and says he has compiled a list of more than 200 sheriffs who oppose further gun restrictions, the newspaper reported. There are 3,079 sheriffs in the country.     

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee began its hearing on gun violence Wednesday with testimony from former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head in 2011 during a mass shooting in Tuscon.

Giffords, whose speech and movement are still affected by her injuries, spoke briefly and in short sentences.

"I need to say something important. Violence is a big problem. Too many children are dying. Too many children. We must do something," she said. "It will be hard, but the time is now. You must act. Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you."

No proposed legislation before Congress suggests an outright ban on guns. A bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would ban some semi-automatic rifles and handguns, in addition to ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds.

Hardy County, W.Va., Sheriff Bryan Ward echoed Tanner and White's views in a Wednesday interview with the Daily Mail.

"We all swore the same oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States and uphold the constitution of West Virginia. The sheriffs don't legislate," he said. "I will not enforce any unconstitutional law.

"My manner of thinking is, if a man or a woman takes an oath and disregards that oath for the sake of politics, shame on that public official."

Ward said he doubts he will need to take a stand against gun control laws, however.

"I have confidence the federal government, by the time it filters down through the checks and balances, there won't be any laws that are deemed unconstitutional," he said.

Ward, who holds a life membership in the National Rifle Association, said he is an advocate of responsible concealed weapon laws. Moral decay, not guns, is to blame for the recent rash of mass shootings, he said.

"I grew up in a home where there was a loaded gun behind every door. When I hear somebody saying a gun killed my child ... a gun is just an inanimate object. People kill people," he said.

Rudi Raynes-Kidder, executive director of the West Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said the organization is "totally supportive" of individual sheriffs expressing their views on issues, but the association has no formal stance on the current gun control proposals.

She said the association might take a position in the future, however. The group has a board meeting scheduled for early next month.

"I'm sure it will be discussed," she said.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at


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