Oregon Sheriff Shared Sandy Hook Conspiracy Theory on Facebook - The New York Times

PhotoJohn Hanlin, the Douglas Country sheriff, right, at a news conference on Friday alongside Celinez Nunez, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.Credit John Locher/Associated Press

As the national debate over gun control raged online after the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on Thursday, comments on the subject posted on Facebook by Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County, whose force responded to the latest rampage, came under scrutiny.

The sheriff, who has made no secret of his strident opposition to tougher gun laws, made his views clear in a letter to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. posted on his department’s Facebook page on Jan. 16, 2013, after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Mr. Hanlin urged the vice president to treat his letter as “a formal request that you NOT tamper with or attempt to amend” the Second Amendment.

“Gun control is NOT the answer to preventing heinous crimes like school shootings,” he wrote, adding that efforts to restrict gun ownership “would be irresponsible and an indisputable insult to the American people.”

The sheriff also warned the vice president that “any federal regulation enacted by Congress or by executive order of the president offending the constitutional rights of my citizens shall not be enforced by me or by my deputies, nor will I permit the enforcement of any unconstitutional regulations or orders by federal officers within the borders of Douglas County Oregon.”

Three days before that letter was released, Mr. Hanlin shared a link on his personal Facebook page to a YouTube video, which suggested that the shootings at Sandy Hook — and the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — might have been staged by the federal government to provide a pretext for “disarming the public” through gun control legislation. In a comment imploring his Facebook friends to watch that video, whose producer claims that the parents of children “allegedly shot” at Sandy Hook were actors, the sheriff wrote, “This makes me wonder who we can trust anymore.”

PhotoA screenshot from the Facebook page of Sheriff John Hanlin in Douglas County, Ore.Credit via Facebook

After that update attracted criticism, it was removed from Mr. Hanlin’s personal Facebook page on Friday, but not before numerous screenshots were made and shared online.