by Rick Langenberg
The latest round of town hall meetings, sponsored by Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger, featured a bevy of issues and concerns, ranging from ATV rights and the new marijuana rules, to dog chaining regulations and no-knock warrants. The sheriff also highly complimented local citizens for keeping an eye on potential trouble spots in the county.
But not surprisingly, gun control once again dominated the sessions, especially during a meeting at the Pikes Peak Heritage Center outside Cripple Creek. “Having a gun is like having a pair of pliers,” said resident Leon Odendahl, in outlining the gun heritage in rural parts of the country. “I am worried about these laws…They are absolutely ludicrous. It is government harassment.” “Folks have to stand up,” said another resident who attended the sheriff’s town hall gathering in Cripple Creek. “You have to demand your rights.”
The residents opposing the current swath of new Colorado gun control regulations didn’t get any arguments from Ensminger, a key spokesman for a group of 55 sheriffs who have filed a lawsuit against the state regarding two of these controversial laws. As he has stressed before, Ensminger stated that he opposes enforcing any law that violates a person’s rights “It is not just gun control,” said the sheriff. “We are guided by the U.S. Constitution…It is about our freedoms.”
On the upside, Ensminger said the Colorado sheriffs have won the initial rounds in the battle to do away with these new regulations. More importantly, he said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has agreed to amend and clarify some of the ambiguous language protecting the rights of people who already own guns and high-capacity ammunition magazines that now exceed the new limits. In essence, these weapons are grandfathered in and gun owners can give them to other family members. The only catch is if they sell these weapons, then the new restrictions go into effect.
The sheriff also expressed optimism about the group’s overall lawsuit, contending that the new gun rules violate the Second Amendment. He indicated these rules are fairly radical, especially for a pro-gun state like Colorado. “They were defeated in Washington,” said the sheriff in describing the lukewarm response the gun control rules have gotten from the U.S. Congress. The main regulations the Colorado sheriffs are challenging are those that require uniform background checks for all gun transactions and the limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines, which are barred from firing no more than 15 bullets (per magazine).
More than gun control
But his recent bout of town hall meetings focused on a lot more than gun control. Ensminger was grilled about the new pro-marijuana laws in Colorado and how his agency plans to enforce the cannabis situation with marijuana now legal on a limited basis for adults in Colorado. This marijuana landscape is more complicated by the fact that no government entity has permitted any cannabis retail outlets in the Pikes Peak region.
The sheriff, who admitted he didn’t favor this amendment, stated that his agency would mainly enforce provisions that don’t allow any marijuana smoking in public places and in vehicles. Plus, he said a big aspect of the new law deals with new restrictions, barring individuals from driving while impaired from marijuana.
The legalities associated with no-knock warrants also generated much discussion during the meeting in Cripple Creek. The sheriff said he supports the current regulations. “I am 100 percent in favor of no-knock warrants if the situation warrants it,” said Ensminger. That said, he reported that his agency has never exercised this right since he became sheriff in the summer of 2010.
The sheriff also provided the audience at the forums with a brief outlook at recent crime and incident statistics for Teller County. Ensminger gave a big plug for local citizens and neighborhood watch groups. “We have a very unique county,” said the sheriff, who credits the residents for no known arson fires and even any substantial blazes in Teller in 2013. “The public response has made a tremendous difference,” he said.
Moreover, he believes more residents are becoming “trained professional observers,” and know what is happening in their neighborhood. He also told citizens that the investigation into the rash of 30 arsons that raged through the county last summer is progressing well. The sheriff predicted a “successful resolve” to this inquiry, which has already attracted a sizeable award fund through a campaign orchestrated by Park State Bank & Trust.
As for overall activity in the county, Ensminger said statistics are fairly similar to 2012, although many reports have increased. The county has experienced a substantial hike in domestic violence cases, according to the sheriff, with the Teller agency already recording 54 domestic violence reports this year. This compares with 36 for last year at this time. The sheriff, though, sees this spike in domestic violence cases as part of an overall national trend. “This is a sign of the times,” said the sheriff.
On a positive note, driving under the influence and driving under the influence of drugs incidents have declined,, according to Ensminger. The sheriff’s department has reported 34 of these cases compared to 48 for the previous year. He attributes this to stronger enforcement action and the end of plea-bargaining in resolving many of these cases. Fire reports are still a big focus of the sheriff’s agency, noted Ensminger. He said the county has received 149 fire calls so far in 2013, which is slightly above last year’s mark. But this year, the county has reported no known arson-related blazes. The sheriff believes that statistic is a result of the vigilant work of local residents. “Everyone is willing to lend a helping hand,” said the sheriff.
Even though the attendance numbers were down from the meetings of last spring, when the gun control debate reached a climax, Ensminger encountered a friendly reception during his recent round of public forums. “This is a community here,” concluded Odendahl, in describing the good relationship between Teller citizens and the sheriff’s agency.