Kamin and other legal experts said such disdain of Obama's proposals is reminiscent of former Confederate states' refusal to comply with federal law extending equal rights for blacks after the Civil War.
The National Sheriff's Association has supported administration efforts to combat gun violence after the Sandy Hook Elementary shootings. President Larry Amerson, sheriff of Calhoun, Ala., said he understands the frustrations of people in rural areas with the federal government. But he feels his oath of office binds him to uphold all laws.
"Any sheriff who knows his duty knows we don't enforce federal law, per se," said Amerson, a longtime firearms instructor and hunter.
Some rural sheriffs view the federal government as an adversary, with gun ownership at the core of that belief.
In Minnesota, Pine County Sheriff Robin Cole sent an open letter to residents saying he did not believe the federal government had the right to tell the states how to regulate firearms. He said he would refuse to enforce any federal mandate he felt violated constitutional rights.
The Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, based in Fredericksburg, Texas, encourages that point of view. Founder Richard Mack, a former sheriff of Apache County, Ariz., speaks regularly at gatherings of Tea Party groups and gun rights organizations.
"I will tell Mr. Obama and everybody else who wants to impose gun control in America, that whether you like it or not, it is against the law," said Mack. "Now we have good sheriffs who are standing up and defending the law against our own president."
Associated Press writers Nicholas Riccardi in Denver, Ben Neary in Cheyenne, Wyo., Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tenn., John O'Connor in Springfield, Ill., Amy Forliti in Minneapolis and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.