Change in gun law has officials worried
SUMMIT COUNTY – Town council members sometimes make decisions that, well, don’t make them friends. Previously, ordinances protected town staff from a citizen who might, in anger or irrationality, bring a gun into town hall.
Those protections no longer stand, thanks to laws passed by the state Legislature this year. Now, some town council members are discussing – albeit jokingly – whether they need to start packing heat.
“Yes, it is a concern we have,” said Breckenridge Town Manager Tim Gagen. “Fortunately, our environment isn’t as pressure-packed as some urban environments. But, you get one person who gets mad – gets a ticket or something – and they walk into the council auditorium … it could happen. We’ve joked that we’d start carrying and lay our guns on the table at the beginning of the meeting just to let everyone know we have them.”
That’s not what has the officials worried the most, though. Local government employees see the gun laws passed by the Legislature as just one more attempt to erode local control.
Senate Bill 25, passed in March, changes the way permits for concealed weapons are issued around the state. The former law governing concealed weapon permits was a “shall issue” law – sheriffs could issue permits to citizens, but could also deny the permit using their own discretion. The new law is a “must issue”; if the applicant has completed all the requirements for a permit, which include an minimum age of 21 and certified handgun training, the sheriff must issue the permit, barring an extreme extenuating circumstance such as a history of mental illness.
Proponents of SB 25, sponsored by Leadville’s Republican state Sen. Ken Chlouber, say the law is important because it creates a uniform statewide standard for concealed weapons permits. Opponents see the law as taking away discretionary power from sheriffs.
Summit County Sheriff Joe Morales and most other sheriffs supported the bill.
“These are the good guys,” Morales said, referring to permit applicants, who also must pass background checks. Morales has issued about 150 permits since becoming sheriff nine years ago. He said the “must issue” law hasn’t prompted a surge in permit applications, although Douglas, Jefferson and a few other counties have seen an increased number of applications for concealed weapon permits.
Morals said that, when legislators and lobbying groups such as the state’s association of sheriffs began researching the concealed weapons bill, they discovered other gun law discrepancies that needed correcting. That research led to Senate Bill 25.
SB 25, which lawmakers also approved in March, stipulates that municipalities cannot pass gun laws that are more restrictive than state law. For instance, Denver formerly had a ban on assault rifles. The state does not. SB 25 renders Denver’s law moot. Another example: Some communities passed laws making it illegal to transport a gun in your car. Per the state, having a gun in your car is OK.
“Essentially, you could have a lawful resident of Summit County with a valid permit for a concealed weapon, who drives their wife to (Denver International Airport) and they’d be in violation of a (gun possession) law and never know it,” Morales said. “We needed to correct that. It’d be like going to Denver and the officer telling you your driver’s license isn’t valid because it wasn’t issued by Denver. Now, it is just like a driver’s license – it’s good statewide.”
It’s the consequence of the law, however, that has Gagen and other town managers upset. While SB 24 and SB 25 maintain the prohibition on taking guns into schools, they remove protections towns formerly had in public places that include not only town halls, but parks, municipal buildings in general and any public places that local governments had deemed necessary to keep gun-free.
Gagen said a Breckenridge resident used to be prohibited from carrying a gun around the Riverwalk Center, but not anymore.
Silverthorne Town Manager Kevin Batchelder said the bills were only two of many aimed at taking away the decision-making ability of local governments. Batchelder said the gun rights aspect of the laws has been highly politicized and is more of a philosophical argument. What concerns him is that these two laws were part of a number that attacked local control. Batchelder cited another law which took away muncipalities’ ability “to address significant land-use issues.”
“In the past, Silverthorne redeveloped some of the older, unsafe trailer parks,” Batchelder said. “The town gave the owners seven years to clean the parks up and bring them into code compliance or the town would condemn the land. That’s how we got Target where it is. It’s how we got part of the town center. Today, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
“There were other bills – probably dozens,” Batchelder added. “It’s a pattern of behavior at the state level that local citizens ought to be concerned about.”
Morales said that, although he supported both Senate bills, he could understand town officials’ perspective and concern about local decision-making ability.
County Commissioner Tom Long, on the other hand, said some towns might have set themselves up for this state backlash. Long, a Republican, NRA member and gun rights advocate (“With one caveat,” he said, “that not everybody needs a Gatling gun”) said many towns and cities abused their authority to pass laws restricting guns.
Long said that some towns passed prohibitions and restrictions assuming that gang members or other worrisome elements of society were the ones applying for concealed weapons permits or using a particular kind of gun.
“I challenge you go out and find me a gang member that has a legally concealed weapon – I offered to kiss the body part they named,” said Long, also a soon-to-be certified instructor of the training required for a permit. “If municipalities had looked at this a little more honestly in past, they probably wouldn’t have found themselves in this predicament. So now we have one central authority, a statewide standard.”
Towns and cities aren’t completely at a loss, though. Next week, town attorneys and managers will meet for a presentation from the legal staff of the Colorado Municipal League. The league, a resource and lobbying association for local governments, will share an analysis of the laws and provide tips on provisions in the law – such as posting of signs – that will give the government some control over where people can carry guns.
Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 237, or email@example.com.
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