Republican Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins is facing backlash after he said he would grant thousands of citizens law enforcement authority.
The incoming Democratic majority in the Virginia General Assembly was elected on a promise to pass new "commonsense gun laws" when they are sworn-in in January. But one local sheriff says he is prepared to take an extreme step to help his constituents circumvent any new restrictions.
He cited "'Red Flag' laws without due process" and other restrictions as threats to "our citizen’s natural right to self defense as protected by our Constitutions," and vowed to challenge any new laws in through the courts.
"In addition, if necessary, I plan to properly screen and deputize thousands of our law-abiding citizens to protect their constitutional right to own firearms," he said.
Virginia laws establish minimum requirements for sheriff deputies that could prevent many of the people who would be disarmed under "red flag" laws from qualifying. And it is hard to know what unintended consequences might stem from having thousands of untrained sheriff's deputies suddenly empowered to arrest people in a county of just above 50,000 people.
The Culpeper County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution last week declaring the community a Second Amendment "sanctuary" —a move that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) has said will have zero legal weight.
Jenkins did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the specifics of this plan and possible unintended consequences.
John Jones, executive director of the Virginia Sheriffs' Association, said in a phone interview that it is premature to guess what gun laws will pass next year. "They haven't even gaveled in," he noted, observing that the legislative process is "like making sausage."
He said his association has not taken a position on any of these questions, but did note that unless Jenkins somehow restricted these new deputies, they would be "full law enforcement officials" with the power to arrest and associated liability.
A spokesperson for Herring said it should be up to Jenkins to explain "the potential liability and negative consequences of 'thousands' of armed, untrained persons purporting to have law enforcement authority."
He said he was not aware of any sheriff having attempted "or even contemplated such an action."
"With respect to gun safety laws in general, when the General Assembly passes gun safety laws, as Virginia voters demanded just a few weeks ago, we expect that everyone will follow the law and keep their citizens safe," he said.
The spokesperson noted Herring had made clear that "when Virginia passes these gun safety laws, they will be followed, they will be enforced."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.