Payette — Sheriffs from Payette, Malheur, Adams and Washington counties held a public town hall meeting Wednesday evening at the Payette High School auditorium to address President Barack Obama’s “Now is the Time” gun control plan, the U.S. Constitution, Oregon and Idaho’s state constitutions, the Bill of Rights and specifically the Second Amendment.
Approximately 500 citizens from both Oregon and Idaho filled the auditorium seats and additional chairs brought in for the event and stood lining the walls around the interior of the building. Many wore military clothing, Veterans of Foreign Wars jackets, were retired law enforcement and nearly all claimed to be gun owners.
Several Idaho politicians were also in attendance, such as state Reps. Judy Boyle and Mark Patterson, as well as Idaho Sen. Monty Pearce.
Payette County Sheriff Chad Huff opened the meeting with a Power Point presentation that detailed both state and federal firearm laws, beginning with the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The Second Amendment states that a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.
“Tonight is about the Second Amendment and what it was intended for,” Huff said. “I will uphold the U.S. and Idaho Constitution as it is written. I’d like you to understand that I take my office very seriously.”
Huff proceeded to inform the audience of several laws pertaining to weapons including the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1996, articles from the Idaho Constitution and Idaho codes, statutes that re-affirm an individual’s rights to carry firearms, and open possession of a weapon. Laws pertaining to concealed carry for firearms as well as minors with firearms were addressed, as well.
Huff and the other sheriffs in attendance stressed that in many cases regarding the President’s executive orders and the level to which they will, or will not, enforce them vary throughout the states and individual counties, but that most sheriffs are in agreement to uphold the Constitution.
This meeting initially came about because the Payette County Sheriff’s Office and multiple others have been inundated with inquiries about the sheriff’s stance on protecting citizens’ rights to bear arms.
These inquires originally stemmed from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, when Adam Lanza killed his mother and then shot 20 children and six adults at the elementary school. This prompted Obama to introduce multiple executive orders pertaining to gun laws and proposed changes to be made on items such as a person’s ability to own high-capacity magazines.
Almost immediately, many sheriffs nationwide, including Malheur County Sheriff Brian Wolfe, wrote letters to Vice President Joe Biden stating that they would not uphold or enforce any laws that they feel infringe on Constitutional rights.
“Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, my office has been contacted by citizens asking where we stand on these proposed changes,” Huff said after the meeting. “Rather than try to get the message across through the media, I thought it best to hold a town hall meeting and include other local sheriffs.”
Wolfe spoke to the crowd, first addressing his initial reactions of the Sandy Hook shooting and said that he, like the rest of America, was overwhelmed with sadness at such a tragic loss. He also said that he knew it was only a matter of time before a fierce gun debate would begin.
The biggest issue that the citizens addressed during the question and answer period, was not only whether or not the sheriffs would refuse to uphold any proposed gun restrictions, but also if they would protect the citizens from direct federal intrusions if that were to happen.
Wolfe said that there was a case years ago in which federal agents came to the area and operated in a manner that the sheriff’s office felt was unjustified. Wolfe said that the agents were told to leave and even though they initially resisted, the federal government relented and left the county.
When asked directly by an attendee if he would allow federal agents to come into the county and strip citizens of certain rights to bear currently legal firearms, Huff answered plainly.
“No,” he said, as did the other sheriffs.
As far as addressing the issue of violence, primarily mass shootings, Wolfe stated his belief that the issue lies not with guns, but the lack of resources for the mentally ill, which was a statement the other sheriffs echoed.
“I truly understand both sides of this, but to infringe on the Constitution of the United States is not the solution,” Wolfe said.
After the meeting, Wolfe expanded on his belief of the true issue at the heart of most violent crimes.
“I believe it’s three-fold,” Wolfe said. “First is addressing the mentally ill and providing them more resources. It is almost impossible to get someone into the state mental hospital and when you look at most of these shootings, a mental issue is the underlying cause. The second issue is the erosion of the family unit and the third is drug usage.”
Police deal with the mentally ill on a daily basis, Wolfe said. Shortly after Wednesday night’s meeting had ended, Wolfe received a call to provide backup to two deputies currently dealing with a man already known to have mental issues.
It was a domestic dispute that escalated to the point that the man needed to be tazed to stop him from harming another, and he is currently housed at the Malheur County Jail, Wolfe said.
During the meeting, many of the sheriffs’ statements were met with applause and cheers, and several stayed behind to speak with the sheriffs directly and thank them for their stance on protecting citizens’ rights.
One member of the audience, like dozens of others, was a veteran and is currently the State of Idaho VFW Judge Advocate and a member of the Payette VFW post. Denny Croner was very pleased with the overall meeting and the issues that were addressed, he said.
“This was pretty enlightening,” Croner said. “I thought everybody gave us a good idea of the rules pertaining to firearms and that it went pretty well.”
The meeting was considered a success by the sheriffs, as well, and Huff was surprised by the number of people in attendance.
“I didn’t realize that there was going to be that many people showing up,” Huff said. “I was certainly happy to see that kind of showing.”
When asked if there was one point that he would like to get across, Huff said that he wants to ensure citizens of his stance on both the U.S. and Idaho Constitutions.
“As your sheriff, I have a duty to protect your rights and I want to inform my citizens I am here for you,” Huff said. “I promise to uphold the oath of my office.”