See more of the story

Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole has drawn a line in the sand over President Obama's package of gun-control measures to be unveiled Wednesday: If the rules don't pass Cole's constitutional muster, he won't comply.

In a politically charged pre-emptive strike against a set of legislative initiatives and executive orders that have already unleashed heated debate, Cole asserted Tuesday in a letter to his constituents that current state gun laws are sufficient while respecting the right to bear arms "which ... I believe is fundamental to our individual freedom."

Neither the federal government, nor any federal official, can dictate mandates to state and local governments that violate the U.S. Constitution, he wrote, concluding: "I would view any such mandate, regulation or administrative rule as illegal and refuse to carry it out."

Elsewhere in the state, Minnesotans continue to pursue gun permits in record numbers as possible new regulations loom.

Conceal-and-carry applications in Hennepin County during the first two weeks of the year have more than doubled from a year ago, the Sheriff's Office reported Tuesday. Anoka County on Monday had its third record day for applicants within the past month. And the Stearns County sheriff says his office is processing more gun applications than ever.

"The stacks [of applications] needing my signature has doubled," said Stearns County Sheriff John Sanner. Asked whether the number of applications have broken county records, Sanner replied, "Probably every day."

Gun permit applications surged nationwide immediately following last month's Connecticut school massacre that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults. Explanations for what has triggered the latest surge in applications range from anticipating new federal restrictions to the need to renew permits about to expire.

In Ramsey County, the demand for permit-to-carry applications has more than doubled so far this year compared with a year ago. Ramsey County had 144 permit-to-carry applications from Jan. 1 through Tuesday, up from 69 in the first two weeks of 2012. In 2011, over the same period, there were 41 applicants.

The increase in Hennepin County is even more dramatic. On Monday, there were 67 conceal-and-carry applications -- well above the county's daily average of 20 to 30. From Jan. 1 to Monday, Hennepin County had 307 permit applications -- far more than twice the 136 over the same two-week period of a year ago.

Legal battle looms

Cole's letter could presage a legal battle, said Joe Olson, a law professor at Hamline University School of Law and an authority on gun rights issues. Under a 1997 U.S. Supreme Court ruling stemming from the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, local sheriffs are not required to act as agents on behalf of the federal government, he said.

Cole, Olson said, "is completely free to say he won't do that." If he refuses to comply with a regulation, an ensuing lawsuit would determine whether he was in the right.

But at least one gun-control advocate was angered by Cole's threat.

"That's ridiculous," said Joan Peterson, whose sister was murdered and who is now a spokeswoman for the advocacy group Protect Minnesota: Working to End Gun Violence.

"After the Sandy Hook shootings, everything changed in this country. If we cannot come up with reasonable measures to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and AR-15s out of classrooms, then who are we as a country?" 651-925-5039 Twitter: @StribJAnderson • 612-673-4419