Monthly “Coffee with Commissioners” meeting
By Lynn Volkens
The recent change in Colorado gun control laws was the topic most on the minds of approximately 60 people who attended the “Coffee with Commissioners” meeting held the evening of March 28, 2013 at the Gilpin County Community Center. Commissioners Buddy Schmalz, Connie McLain and Gail Watson were joined by Colorado Senator Jeanne Nicholson and Gilpin County Sheriff Bruce Hartman. New laws restricting magazines to fifteen rounds, requiring background checks on all gun sales, including private sales, and requiring the gun purchaser to pay for that background check were recently signed by Governor Hickenlooper and become effective July 1, 2013. County Sheriffs of Colorado, a professional organization which includes the sheriffs of 62 Colorado counties, and of which Hartman is Secretary/Treasurer, had taken a stand against the new laws. Many of the sheriffs, including Hartman, had gone to the state capitol to testify to that effect before legislators voted. A written statement from County Sheriffs of Colorado expressed sympathies to the victims of recent shootings, but also said that gun control legislation introduced at this time would likely be made from emotion rather than reason, and asked that legislators table all gun control bills for at least a year to “encourage rational deliberations before any decisions are made.”
“The problem is the way the laws are written,” Sheriff Hartman said. Each one, as written, has issues, he explained. For example, he said, a peace officer seizes a high-capacity magazine during an arrest and the person charged is found not guilty, “We cannot give the magazine back after July 1st – that’s the law.” There was also a problem in the law regarding if the magazine owner says the magazine was purchased before July 1st, he added. The prosecutor would have to prove otherwise and that’s extremely hard to do as magazine manufacturers do not date their magazines, he explained. Some of the Colorado sheriffs have said the new law is unconstitutional and they will not enforce it. “Shame on them for making those statements,” Hartman said. “It takes a court and a judge to determine that (constitutionality). I’m not qualified. We asked the legislature to wait. It didn’t work. We will enforce these laws just like we do any other law,” he stressed. Other problems include what to do if someone buys a 30-round magazine out-of-state, “How do you enforce that?” the sheriff was asked, and what constitutes a magazine that’s “readily convertible to high capacity?” Both are problems, Hartman said, saying “highly convertible” is subject to interpretation and that he thought it would take a court to deal with the ambiguity. Hartman said the sheriffs have consulted a law professor regarding the constitutionality issue and that it’s been recommended they file suit. He supports that, he said, because “We need clarification so the police officer on the side of the road knows what he can and cannot do.” (There is no county money being put toward that lawsuit.)
Senator Nicholson was asked “how the ‘yes’ votes happened, considering so many sheriffs testified against the bills.” Nicholson explained that testimony was given before the State, Veteran and Military Affairs Committee, of which she is not a member, so she did not hear it. “I think there were different interpretations of the testimony,” she said, adding that she thought several amendments to the bills had addressed some of the sheriffs’ concerns. New magazines will be date-stamped she said, distinguishing those that were manufactured before the law. An issue with ownership transfer (which could potentially have cost the Gilpin County Sheriff’s Office $5,000 per year) had been addressed via amendment, Nicholson said. She and Hartman agreed, “The devil’s in the details.” They also agreed on the need for two more gun control bills still in progress. One law prohibits those convicted of domestic violence or those with a restraining order against them, from owning a weapon. However, there’s a concern with the way that law is written relating to storage of seized weapons, said Hartman. The other law, still in the works, requires a physical hands-on training class for gun purchasers vs. training done online. “We support that,” said Hartman. The room seemed divided into two camps. Just under half applauded when Nicholson, answering a direct question as to how she had voted on the bills, said “I voted ‘yes’ on all five.” And in one camp, the thought was that all laws need to be “tweaked,” and that the glitches would get worked out. The other camp said if the legislation required a court and judge to fix it, legislators had done a poor job of writing it.
“We haven’t heard anything about the mental health part of this – why aren’t you pushing that? The state needs to know if a person has mental health issues if they purchase a gun,” said one man, addressing Senator Nicholson. Less than 1% of the mentally ill are violent, Nicholson said, also guessing that less than 1% of gun owners are violent. Mental health services are underfunded in Colorado, she said, and she’s carrying a bill that specifically funds crisis treatment centers for the mentally ill. The long-bill on the budget also funds mental health services in schools, crisis centers, local centers, private prisons and local jails, she said. “What we’d like to see legislators take on is reporting mental health issues so the state knows – instead of hiding behind the HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability) laws,” a woman told Nicholson. The Senator promised to take a conversation back to the legislature that asks when is it appropriate for a care provider to report that someone may be violent.
Clarification of Senate Bill 13-133, which Nicholson is sponsoring, was asked for by several people attending the meeting. The bill would amend Colorado Revised Statute 12-47.1-701 (2) to change the way the annual limited gaming fund is created. Rather than dealing with percentages, the proposed bill calls for $5 million to be transferred to the Local Government Limited Gaming Impact Fund and also specifies the amounts to be transferred to other designated funds. The idea is to get more of that money to Gilpin County to deal with the impacts of gaming on such things as infrastructure and emergency services.
Gilpin County Commissioners plan hold these casual informative meetings monthly as a way to update constituents and get feedback on important local issues. Meeting dates are announced in the Weekly Register-Call and on the County’s website, www.co.gilpin.co.us. To view the complete statement to legislators, written by the County Sheriffs of Colorado, or to watch the PBS television interview with Sheriff Hartman on gun control, visit the Gilpin County website and click on the Sheriff/Jail/Dispatch link under “Departments.” Visit www.senatorjeannenicholson.com to read Senator Nicholson’s views on the gun control legislation and other state issues.