Publisher’s Desk: Two for the Road

Some news stories are said to have traction with the public. These are said to have “legs.” This story has arms. Firearms, to be clear; eleven of them, including five handguns. Fewer than would be required to, say, annex the Crimea–but still eleven more guns than were on the street before supporters of acting sheriff Mike Boudreaux raffled them off.
On February 28, during what was billed–I kid you not–as a Bologna Feed, the raffle was held to raise funds for Boudreaux’ campaign to be returned as Tulare County sheriff, a position to which he was appointed by county supervisors in October of last year. So Boudreaux is not an incumbent–he is the acting sheriff. Well, it’s time for him to act like one.
Perhaps, if he had run before, Boudreaux would have been aware that a raffle in support of a political campaign is illegal. Perhaps, as acting sheriff, he should have already known this. Perhaps, as acting sheriff, he feels himself above the law. The optics are bad here, and he certainly is defensive about it. On his campaign’s Facebook page, Boudreaux championed the raffle by declaring, “This fund raising Gun raffle is in support of our second amendment which I support and defend.” Glad that’s cleared up! It seems he’ll be donating the proceeds to some group looking to safeguard our gun rights. Right? Not quite. In the next paragraph, he thanks raffle-goers for “contributing more money to support my candidacy.”
Of course the raffle was in support of Boudreaux, not of the second amendment! And I don’t have a problem with it. Or with the raffle itself. But Boudreaux’ opponent in the race, Dave Whaley, does. We’ll resume with him in a moment.
No–my problem is with what was raffled. It is beyond chilling, or even alarming–it is WRONG–that any branch of law enforcement, those whom we call peace officers, should in any way promote the proliferation of firearms in the public sector. Deputies, perhaps, should be better armed–but the public? Said Boudreaux, “Instead of trying to keep guns out of the hands of our citizens I will continue to support and defend the Second Amendment with my words and my actions.”
Really? Do you know what the motto of our sheriff’s department is? I don’t, because I couldn’t find one. There is, instead, a Mission Statement: “To improve the quality of life through professional services and community partnerships.” What does this even mean? And wouldn’t it be more reassuring, somehow, if there was at least some nod to the notion of “to protect and serve”? Maybe Boudreaux interprets “community partnership” as any departmental–or personal–effort to arm so many citizens as is possible.
To be fair, though, raffle winners–like anyone else–are required to pass a background check before claiming their prize. And let’s be clear: in this case, the prize was a weapon. Five of those prizes were handguns. Not sporting rifles, with which I’d be fractionally more comfortable, but guns whose only purpose is to kill people at short range. Yet background checks only affirm one’s right to own a gun, in that there is no criminal record or history of mental illness; they do not, so far as I am aware, presuppose a prospective owner’s gun-handling expertise; they do not, so far as I know, assure either safe handling or storage. Background checks do not defend against theft or unforeseen access. Think Adam Lanza. Five bucks says you know who he was.
Yes, it’s legal–even our right–to own firearms. That’s not in dispute. But it is damned unsavory for the acting sheriff to raffle them off for any reason. Booze and cigarettes are also legal. In this parallel, a background check is analogous to being carded. How would the public react if Boudreaux raffled cases of whiskey or cartons of smokes?
Instead, our sheriff’s department–like law enforcement everywhere in this gun-drunken country–should be promoting firearm buybacks. These are far from perfect, and admittedly may remove many weapons that are broken or otherwise incapable of being fired. Still, buybacks are in keeping with something akin to a remedy for a society with far too many guns at its disposal–disposal being the operative word. It’s a public health issue. Shouldn’t our sheriff’s department support the health of its public?
Of course it should. And here was a perfect chance for Boudreaux’ opponent, retired undersheriff Dave Whaley, to truly differentiate himself. He had tried to do so previously, by leveling charges of corruption at the sheriff’s department, but these did not stick. And by complaining now about the illegality of the raffle–not with what was actually raffled off–Whaley has diminished himself as a candidate who is not only petty, but grasping at straws.
Unless there is a third candidate, the election for Tulare County sheriff will come down to a choice between acting sheriff Mike Boudreaux, who so far as I know would see us all armed–even our pets–and Dave Whaley, who so far as I know is capable of seeing only the small picture. We deserve better.
And speaking of pictures, the Oscars air tonight. Boudreaux and Whaley remind me of a good movie I once saw, “Two For the Road.” OK–neither is Audrey Hepburn. But they both need to hit the proverbial highway.

Joseph Oldenbourg

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