John Horch, Rey Reynolds and David Shook were asked the question at a debate-style candidate forum held four days before the shooting tragedy that claimed the lives of 21 students and teachers in Uvalde, Texas
Almost three weeks ago, on May 20, the three candidates attempting to become the next sheriff of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office participated in a candidate forum held in Vancouver. The event was held by the Clark County Republican Women and moderated by former Washington state representative Liz Pike.
John Horch, Rey Reynolds and David Shook took part in the debate-style format. In addition to being given the opportunity to deliver an opening statement and a closing statement, the candidates were also asked to answer six questions in alternating order. The candidates’ responses to one particular question became even more compelling four days later when 21 people – 19 students and two teachers – were killed in a shooting tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Since the tragedy, conversations have intensified across the country about gun rights and gun control legislation.
At the May 20 event, the candidates were asked the following question:
As elected sheriff, how will you respond if the Washington governor signs unconstitutional gun confiscation legislation into law? Specifically, will you uphold Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens and refuse to enforce any such a law in Clark County?
Horch, a 33-year veteran of the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, was the first to answer the question.
“I took an oath just like these gentlemen … to uphold the Constitution of the United States, the laws of the United States and the state of Washington. We took that oath,’’ Horch said. “Recently, in the state of Washington, there’s been some controversial things that have come out that people wonder, is this constitutional or not? And what does the sheriff do? We’ve heard sheriffs make statements about what they will or will not do. So as sheriff, I’m charged with upholding people’s rights. And we have to protect people’s rights, everybody’s rights, all citizens.
“This has already come up a few years ago on two incidents with gun seizures,’’ Horch added. “I met with the prosecuting attorney and said, ‘I think we have an issue with this.’ So there needs to be discretion and discernment about what we’re going to do when we pass certain gun laws … That’s the one problem where legislators can pass law that hasn’t gone through the judicial process. So that puts our frontline people out there making these decisions. That’s very difficult. I met with him (Prosecutor Tony Golik) and we decided not to take action but to re-document and record.’’
“I do not believe it’s my job to overstep my bounds as executive branch and say, ‘I believe the law is unconstitutional,’’’ Horch added. “But, I have discretion on how we will enforce or not enforce those laws. We use discretion every day, a jay walker, a speeder. We can justify to give them a ticket or not give them a ticket. There’s only a few laws in the state of Washington that are mandatory to make an arrest. So I will use discretion and discernment and talk about these things, because it’s a big issue.’’
Reynolds, who has spent the majority of his 37 years in law enforcement with the Vancouver Police Department, was then given an opportunity to answer the same question.
“Rosa Parks got on a bus and she sat down,’’ Reynolds said. “She sat down and in walked somebody, a white person, and says ‘give me your seat.’ She said, ‘No, I’m not doing it.’ An officer walked in and arrested her. Rosa Parks got arrested for that. Her civil rights were violated. Because there was a law that said it was okay to arrest her.
“Several people in Tulsa, Oklahoma were jailed, and some 300 were killed,’’ Reynolds added. “Six thousand were placed into detainment camps, because it was a law that allowed it to happen. Because the sheriff didn’t have a decision, didn’t have the guts to stand up and say ‘this is wrong.’’’
After offering those anecdotes, Reynolds made a statement that drew the loudest ovation from the crowd in attendance.
“Simply put, I will not enforce unconstitutional laws,’’ Reynolds stated emphatically. “Your Second Amendment rights are absolutely critical to me. (Initiative) 1639 is a major violation of your civil rights. When you signed that piece of paper, if you didn’t know it, you gave the sheriff and your police departments the right to search your records. That is a violation of your Fourth Amendment right. It cannot be helped. And you need to understand that there comes a time where you need to say ‘no.’ And this is such a time. So as your sheriff, you have my word that will not happen.’’
In November 2018, Washingtonians adopted Initiative 1639, which made a number of changes to Washington’s firearms laws.
Shook, who has three decades of experience in law enforcement including the last two with the Clark County Sheriff’s Office, was the final candidate given the opportunity to answer the question.
“Actually, there are laws passed every day that are unconstitutional,’’ Shook said. “Our legislature is not checking the Constitution before they’re making these laws. Being an executive in the executive branch, just like the governor, just like the city mayors, and so forth and so on. We have choices. We have choices on whether or not we’re going to arrest people, or we’re going to enforce those laws. We have the discretion, as John (Horch) had said, and I agree with that assessment. If you find, I find that it’s unconstitutional, we have that discretion until the law says you don’t.
“There are some laws that the legislature says ‘listen sheriff, you’re going to jail. You’re the one who’s ultimately responsible,’’’ Shook said. “Now, Rey (Reynolds) said 1639 is unconstitutional, or it’s violating your rights. I’ve seen many folks that were experiencing mental health and other issues, criminal folks that have killed loved ones and whatnot. I don’t mind that there was a background (check) done as long as there’s due process on getting your guns back and figuring it out. It’s not an all or nothing. It’s a temporary moment. Those homeless folks, those mentally ill folks. So unconstitutional law should not be followed. And, we have the discretion as executives and as the sheriff to not follow those unconstitutional laws.’’
The candidates were then given the opportunity for a rebuttal. Horch used his time to ask Reynolds for clarification on his statement.
“Do you feel as sheriff, Rey Reynolds, that you can deem a law as unconstitutional? Not that you have discretion on how you do it, but that you have the sole authority to determine if a law is unconstitutional without going through the judicial process?’’ Horch asked.
Reynolds responded, doubling down on his earlier statement.
“Thank you and that’s a good question,’’ Reynolds said. “Here’s the answer. Every day that I work, I have to make a decision on what’s constitutional. The court, especially when you’re looking at, say that there’s a chance where an officer has to decide whether to seize a child or not because of an abusive situation. The courts have ruled that the officer is the expert on Fourth Amendment decisions that come up.
“That decision came up very clearly that the officer has to make a decision,’’ Reynolds added. “Do I have probable cause? And do I have an exigent circumstance? And does it fit within the Constitution? Officers that decided to take a child that did not have those two qualities were deemed that they had violated the civil rights of that family. So yes, we are considered the experts on the Constitution. We are considered the experts by the court on what the Fourth Amendment says. So yes, I will make that decision.’’
POLL: Should a law enforcement officer uphold Second Amendment rights for law-abiding citizens and refuse to enforce unconstitutional gun confiscation legislation if signed into law by the governor?
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