CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – When Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon announced Thursday he would not honor a federally-enacted assault weapons ban, it raised questions of Cannon's authority to make such a call.
Two local government law experts say Cannon was well within his limits.
"Al Cannon is an independently elected officer," said Miller Shealy, an associate professor of law at the Charleston School of Law and a former assistant attorney general for the state of South Carolina. "Ultimately, Al Cannon is responsible for the people of Charleston County who elect him, and that's it."
Shealy says because Cannon is a state official, he is not bound to follow federal law.
"The Sheriff of Charleston County is not tasked with enforcing federal, criminal legislation," Shealy said. "There are some laws and some circumstances of the constitution where the federal government can compel the states. This is really not one of them."
Charlie Condon is a practicing attorney and former 9th circuit solicitor. He says Cannon's statement was more political than it was practical.
"His decision not to enforce any would be laws…may not have that much of an impact for those that do violate the law because they could be arrested by a whole host of other agencies that do have enforcement authority in Charleston County."
Condon says even if the ban is enacted and Cannon goes forward with his stance, city police departments could step in to make arrests.
"There are so many other police agencies in Charleston County that would have jurisdiction, and even at the state level, the state law enforcement division has full jurisdiction throughout Charleston County. So if someone is thinking, ‘Gosh, I'm home free here, and can carry my assault weapon proudly in Charleston County', they are going to be sorely disappointed."
Shealy says legally, Cannon can choose not to enforce or make arrests for federal laws, as well as assist in federal investigations, as long as the agency does not interfere.
"If they try to stand in the way of a legitimate federal investigation, that's obstruction of justice, but to merely say we're not involved in this, we disagree with your gun laws. That's either the price, or if you choose to look at it, the benefit of a federal constitution."