When word spread that a U.S. Navy veterans’ gun rights were in jeopardy because of a decision by the Veteran’s Administration, scores of protesters showed up at the man’s home in Priest River, Idaho, but the most prominent of them all were Bonner County Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and Priest River Police Chief Drew McLain.
The Bonner County Daily Bee reported that both lawmen “were present as firm supporters of the Second Amendment and defenders of Idaho Statute 18-3315B, which prohibits local law enforcement agencies from aiding a federal agency from seizing firearms without an order of the court.”
The protest was prompted by a letter sent to Vietnam-era Navy veteran John Arnold following a stroke he suffered nearly a year before. The VA reportedly determined that because Arnold assistance managing his financial affairs, he was “incompetent” and therefore he could not purchase or possess firearms.”
But Arnold told the newspaper that while his stroke “screwed me up pretty bad” it “didn’t screw up my mind.” He retained his faculties and was eager to chat with reporters who showed up to cover the controversy.
News of Arnold’s plight set off a chain reaction that brought other veterans and gun rights advocates from all over the landscape, including Idaho State Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) and Washington State Rep. Matt Shea, a Spokane-area Republican, to Arnold’s defense, and his front yard.
But it was Wheeler and McLain whose presence added an official touch to the somewhat spontaneous gathering of friends, neighbors and supporters who were not about to let the federal government disarm the aging veteran. By one count, more than 100 supporters showed up.
David Cooper with the American Legion was one of those who supported Arnold, telling the crowd that the Navy veteran “pays his own bills and does everything else other than drive and to declare him incompetent is a joke,” the newspaper reported.
According to the Boise Weekly, “The Bonner County Sheriff ’s Office and the Priest River Police Department said they would support any effort to resist the seizure of the firearms.”
Among those citizens who showed up at Arnold’s residence were several who were openly carrying sidearms. The protest gained lots of media notoriety, and in the end, nobody showed up to confiscate firearms belonging to Arnold.
Sheriffs and police chiefs rarely show up in support of a gun rights issue. This time they stood out in a crowd that prevented the seizure of Arnold’s firearms and infringement of his rights.
By no small surprise, the VA later rescinded its initial decision and declared Arnold to be competent after all.
For their willingness to step forward and prevent an injustice, Sheriff Wheeler and Chief McLain both earn recognition as Defenders of the Month.