Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy | Facebook video Screenshot
To a standing ovation of gun rights activists, the GOP-controlled Livingston County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution at this week’s meeting declaring it to be a “constitutional county” and essentially saying it will ignore recently passed gun control legislation signed into law by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
The board chambers were packed long before the Monday meeting began, forcing county officials to open up two additional rooms for the overflow. Almost all of those in attendance were in support of the measure, likely due to an invitation that circulated online by the far-right group FEC United Michigan.
Headlined “Our Sovereignty is Being Severely Threatened,” the post claimed, without evidence, that President Joe Biden has a plan “to take away our sovereignty as soon as the next pandemic emerges,” and urged attendance at the meeting as “Livingston County has created a resolution to proclaim itself a Constitutional County therefore refusing to enforce unconstitutional laws, mandates and executive orders.”
In addition to saying the board would not approve any expenditure of county resources towards enforcing any firearms legislation it deems unconstitutional, the resolution “strongly encourages” the Livingston County sheriff and prosecutor to use “utmost discretion in the exercise of their duties in enforcing any statute, law, rule, order, or regulation that is contrary to the rights established by The Constitution of the United States of America and the State of Michigan Constitution.”
The vote precedes the expected signing into law of so-called “red flag” laws, which were passed last week by the Michigan Senate along party lines after passing the House the week before.
Known formally as Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws, they can be used to temporarily prohibit people from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. This is done upon request of a court order from family members, law enforcement and other individuals.
Because the legislation did not receive sufficient votes to take immediate effect, the law won’t go into effect until 90 days after lawmakers end their legislative session for the year.
Regardless, Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy, a Republican, has said he believes the law is unconstitutional and has no intention of enforcing it. Some Republican officials across the country have taken a similar stance.
“You can make all the laws in the world and people are still going to do evil things,” said Murphy in a Facebook video posted a few hours before the commissioners voted on the resolution. “People are still going to do bad things. I know that a lot of people have pointed to MSU and Oxford as reasons for the fact that these red flag laws need to be in place.
He added that he’s “not intimately familiar with all the details in both of those cases, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that had this been in effect, it probably would’ve not had an effect on the outcome there.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, called Murphy’s stance “irresponsible.”
“Whenever law enforcement has an opportunity to prevent someone from being murdered or taking their own life, and they refuse to do anything, that’s their job is to protect the public,” she told “Off The Record” this month on WKAR-TV.
Among the many speakers in favor of the resolution was Michigan GOP Chair Kristina Karamo, whose March 22 social media post comparing gun reform measures to the Holocaust drew widespread condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans.
After thanking the board for “defending the constitutional rights of the people of Livingston County,” Karamo condemned the ERPO legislation.
“That happens to so many people, that we’ve been falsely accused of things and then we can have our rights taken away from us, and then we’ll have to go and defend ourselves to have our rights restored,” she said.
Karamo’s phrasing seemingly referenced accusations made by her ex-husband that she threatened to kill her own daughters following his request for a divorce, which were widely reported last year during her unsuccessful secretary of state bid.
When asked about the resolution from the Livingston County Board of Commissioners, and Sheriff Murphy’s opposition to enforcing red flag laws, Nessel spokesperson Danny Wimmer told the Michigan Advance the argument that the laws are unconstitutional, illegal or unenforceable is not based in the law.
“The statute establishes the highest threshold of civil court standards, requiring clear and convincing evidence for the issuance of an ERPO,” said Wimmer. “Laws similar to the recently passed legislation in other states have repeatedly withstood constitutional scrutiny and been upheld in the courts. The assertions to the contrary from elected officials in Livingston County are based not on the law but the personal whims of what they want to support, for either personal or political reasons. And furthermore, the resolution from the Livingston County board is not legally binding on local law enforcement.”
Wimmer said Nessel strongly believes that Extreme Risk Protection Orders will save lives, calling their enforcement “crucial to public safety,” but acknowledged that sheriffs and prosecutors are elected officials within their communities who have discretion as to which laws they will enforce with the resources of their office.
“If they choose not to enforce laws to prevent gun violence, avoidable injury, and death, that is a decision for their constituency to evaluate,” said Wimmer. “These decisions will ultimately be judged by the voters in their county.”
Based on that criteria, Murphy doesn’t believe that will be a problem.
“I don’t believe my constituents want red flag laws enforced,” he said, arguing again that they’re “unconstitutional.”
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