By Beth Dodd:
Colorado legislators are introducing a broad package of new gun legislation in the emotional wake of the Aurora Theater shooting in July and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in December. The bills to be considered include universal background checks, bans on high-capacity magazines, bans on assault weapons, and measures to keep guns away from the mentally ill.
The debate over potential new gun rules is following partisan lines. The two house Democratic majority is favoring new laws to limit public access to certain types of arms considered the most dangerous. Republicans prefer few or no new gun regulations that would limit Second Amendment freedoms and increased public access to weapons as a deterrent to criminals.
The city of Cripple Creek has also entered the fight, with elected leaders unanimously passing a resolution last week that prohibits city employees from enforcing any gun control restrictions that violate the Second Amendment. “The city council further urges Colorado’s United States Senators and Congressional delegation to take stock of their oaths of office and to reject and vote against the efforts of a strident minority to use tragedy as an excuse to infringe on fundamental constitutional rights,” stated city officials in a prepared statement, outlining the town government’s view on this volatile issue.
Cripple Creek is one of a growing number of local governmental entities in Colorado that is officially saying “no way” to more gun control measures, especially if they violate certain provisions of the Second Amendment. “Emotions are high and we all want to increase public safety,” said House Minority Leader, Mark Waller (R) of Colorado Springs in a recent report in The Denver Post. “And the fundamental question is will more gun control enhance public safety? I don’t think so. I don’t see how limiting law-abiding citizens’ Second Amendment rights enhances the overall safety of Colorado communities.”
The County Sheriffs of Colorado or CSOC, a non-partisan group of law enforcement officials, have now added their opinion to the debate. Following their meeting in January, they issued a statement on the issue, their Position Paper on Possible Gun Control Legislation. In the five page document, the law enforcement group strongly opposes any legislation that may limit Second Amendment rights.
In its paper, CSOC recommends that all gun control bills should be tabled for at least a year to encourage rational deliberations rather than emotional knee-jerk decisions. They oppose banning assault weapons because the term is vaguely defined and in the past has focused more on the appearance of a particular gun rather than on the actual operation of the gun.
CSOC opposes any restrictions on private sales of guns or any move toward gun registration, based on the belief that the government does not have the right to know who owns a gun or for what reason as long as the weapon is used lawfully. The paper also speaks out against bans of high capacity ammunition magazines, restricting bulk purchases of ammunition, or the creation of a statewide database of concealed carry permit holders.
The CSOC paper also address the issue of mental health and gun violence, claiming that untreated or undertreated mental illness is a more significant contributing factor to gun violence than what kind of gun a severely mentally ill person may own or gain access to. Rather than creating new mandatory reporting requirements for mental health providers and restrictions on gun ownership, CSOC would prefer to see better funding for mental health screening, treatment, and education.
Teller County Sheriff, Mike Ensminger, gave the recent bout of legislative gun control measures the cold shoulder and agrees with the CSOC position. “If we are going to continue to talk about gun control, then we are going to have to change the Second Amendment,” he said.
The sheriff also questioned the media’s obsession with gun control legislation and views the recent tragedies as unfortunate, but very isolated incidents. “We have to deal with reality,” added Ensminger. He noted that only 2 percent of fatal shootings are caused by semi-automatic weapons.
Moreover, he noted that one of the biggest national dilemmas for families and kids involves the child abuse crisis. “Five children a day are dying in the hands of perpetrators who are in a position of trust. That is a real tragedy. We don’t hear anything about that.”
With that said, Ensminger does support legislation that would broaden the current mental health restrictions, enabling law officers more time to evaluate a possibly troubled person or to bar that person from obtaining guns. “That is legitimate,” said the sheriff. As for some of the specific plans being proposed in Colorado , the sheriff said his office is taking a “wait and see” attitude.
Sheriff Ensminger also said that his office would help local school districts enhance their security in the wake of the tragic shootings. He suggested that school administrators might consider having a closed campus.
Ensminger also said that his department would help train school teachers and administrators in the use of firearms for personal protection, but isn’t quite endorsing the position of El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa. Maketa has said that he wants to arm and train school staff to carry guns at school. However, since he made his statement, the state legislature has rejected a proposed new law to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in the classroom.