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An educator responds to Constitutional Sheriffs

I am a veteran teacher at Howell High School in Livingston County.  I’m writing this in response to recent statements (Livingston Daily 04.18, Fox 2 Detroit, 04.21)  by Livingston County Sheriff Mike Murphy regarding his refusal to enforce proposed “red flag laws”.

When it comes to gun violence in schools, the classroom door is the last line of defense.  As communities, schools are doing our part to make kids and staff as safe as possible.  My classroom door is always locked.  We do drills during which we ask students to sit in the dark and imagine a murderer in the hallway so we are prepared for the worst.  I keep my daughter’s old softball bat in a corner near my door so that if our classroom is breached I can help my students fight for their lives.  School leaders have implemented training so we can effectively respond to a mass shooting on campus.  School boards have invested in security measures like security guards and reconfiguring entry points to buildings.  Students, staff, and school leaders are doing what we can to make schools as safe as possible, but we can only do so much on our own.

For us to be as safe as possible, we rely on law enforcement and legislation.  Recently our legislature has better met its responsibility for our safety by providing funding for school security updates and passing laws meant to make gun violence less likely.  Many schools have partnerships with local law enforcement that involve a variety of services and enable schools and police to work together to respond to a crisis and keep schools safe.

In other words, lots of people are using the tools they have available to reduce the chances that kids are murdered on campus.  This fact makes it extremely frustrating to see Sheriff Mike Murphy state that he will not enforce legislation, in particular “red flag” laws, that he believes are unconstitutional.  He justifies his refusal to enforce these proposed laws with vague references to the second amendment and his role as a “Constitutional” sheriff.

Frustratingly, these self-proclaimed Constitutional Sheriffs don’t seem to actually understand the Constitution.  Sheriffs are bound to uphold the Michigan Constitution.  Chapter 51, Section 1 of that document explains that a primary purpose of sheriffs is to enforce state law.  Because sheriffs are elected, there is no way to require them to enforce the law, but it’s clearly their duty.  They aren’t supposed to simply pick and choose which laws they feel like enforcing.  It’s not their job to interpret the Constitution.  That’s a job for the courts. Red Flag laws already exist in nearly twenty states and have not been determined to be unconstitutional.  So when people like Sheriff Murphy state that these laws are unconstitutional, they are literally just making that up.  Rather than using all available tools to secure the safety of the citizens that rely on them, they are ignoring their Constitutional responsibilities and acting on their personally held beliefs while politicizing their offices.

Kids are afraid and educators are weary, but we will keep doing the drills.  School leaders will keep looking for ways to make schools safer.  School boards will continue to seek out resources that make campuses more secure.

We’ll all keep doing what we can to keep our communities safe from gun violence.  It’s not too much to ask that our Sheriff do the same.  We deserve law enforcement at all levels that will do everything in its power to serve and protect us.


Greg Talberg is a social studies teacher at Howell High School. He is also a member of the Governor’s Educator Advisory Council, and was president of the Williamston Community Schools Board of Education from 2015 to 2018.

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