By Beth Dodd:
Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, the debate over gun control in our country has heated up, with many people seeing this event as the line in the sand for stricter gun control laws and others fearful of loosing their second amendment rights.
Here in Teller County, where hunting provides a nice kick to the local economy every fall, the locals I spoke with were of the opinion that the problem is cultural, with too many angry, crazy people getting access to weapons. From this point of view, banning any kind of gun is not an effective way to prevent mass shootings, since criminals will get guns anyway or find other methods to commit murder and mayhem.
“Gun control is like taking away cars because of drunk drivers,” said Steve Copp, a retired Colorado Springs police officer with 27 years of law enforcement experience. “Guns are not scary. It’s the nut cases behind the guns who are scary.”
Another common sentiment is that a new weapons ban will do nothing to stop the misuse of the guns already on the streets. It is better to be able to protect yourself than to try to create a foolproof system to stop every bad guy. Accountability through personal responsibility and proper training is the best formula for safety, or in other words we need to control people, not guns.
Still, the fear that broad new weapons restrictions might be pushed through Congress by Vice President Biden’s gun violence prevention task force, which is due to share its recommendations with President Obama on January 15, has increased gun sales across the country. In Teller County, one distributer reported that the wait time for the CBI background check required to buy a gun has gone from roughly 30 to 40 minutes to 8 or 9 days. There are also reports of ammunition shortages in some parts of the country.
Biden’s group is said to be considering universal background checks, tracking the movement and sale of guns through a national data base, strengthening mental health checks, and stiffer penalties for carrying guns to school or giving guns to minors. There is also speculation that an assault weapons ban might be coming. The NRA was highly critical after meeting with Biden, saying that the Obama administration is more focused on imposing unnecessary restraints on lawful gun owners than on keeping children safe.
“We have to find some way to stop the illegal use of guns,” declared Jon DeVaux, owner of Alpine Firearms in Woodland Park. “We have to stop the killing of innocent people. I support anything that does that without taking away our right to bear arms.”
Not only are more people buying guns right now, with many people buying for the first time, but more people than usual are also selling guns because they know the market is good. This could translate into more unregulated private gun sales, as eager sellers avoid state and federal gun laws altogether to make a fast buck.
Many people are now especially concerned about the vulnerability of schools. Ideas for improving school security range from allowing teachers to carry guns in the classroom to posting retired servicemen as armed guards on school campuses. A more moderate point of view calls for improved school security through teacher training and controlled access to buildings. In the Woodland Park and Manitou grade schools, teachers and students already practice occasional lock-down drills, only the front door is left unlocked during school hours, and all visitors are expected to sign in at the office.
To improve school security, El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa has offered to assist with firearms training and waive some fees for concealed carry permits for school staff, believing that guns on campus will act as a deterrent. The department has since received many calls from teachers and local school administrators making inquiries. Academy D-20 and Colorado Springs District 11 already have armed security guards. However, it is currently illegal under both state and federal law for someone other than a law enforcement officer or security guard to carry a gun on school grounds.
This may soon change. Republican legislators in Colorado have introduced a bill to allow school boards to adopt rules allowing school employees to carry handguns on school grounds with a concealed weapons permit. Senator Scott Renfro of Greeley, one of the sponsors of the bill said, “There are teachers out there who are veterans or retired police who are very qualified. The last thing I want is have a person like that in the school who can’t help protect the children or themselves.”
Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger would also like to see improved school security, and favors closed campuses and bullet-proof windows. “We can lock the doors, and secure our educational facilities. We don’t have to wait,” he said. “We can secure our schools and I think it can be done at very low cost to our community.”
“The recent massacres are the result of mental-health issues,” Ensminger also said. “We have to address what types of people are committing these crimes. Look at Columbine, Aurora and Sandy Hook, the gunmen have all had mental-health problems.”
Ensminger agrees with a proposal by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to set aside $18.5 million to increase the state’s psychiatric services. The Governor took aim at gun violence in his State of the State address on January 10, remembering the victims of the Aurora Theater shooting last summer. The theater is due to re-open this Thursday.
“Let’s examine our laws and make the changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” Hickenlooper said, suggesting that state legislators overhaul and expand Colorado’s mental health care system. “We have to do a better job of identifying and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others,” he said.