Colorado gets a 'D' in gun safety

The Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence and the Million Mom March gave Colorado a grade of D for weakening gun laws. But local gun owners and safety instructors aren't particularly concerned about either organization's opinion.

In their seventh annual analysis of state gun laws, Colorado's grade dropped from a C- to a D. Colorado was one of 31 states that received grades of D or F.

The organizations criticized the state for allowing guns to be sold without child-safety locks, and because there is no law restricting assault weapons or high-capacity ammunition magazines.

But hunting and firearms are deeply ingrained in Moffat County culture. People here are ever-alert for perceived violations of their Second Amendment rights.

"These people are totally against firearms and there's no way to change that," said Ron Stoffle of Maybell, who has taught hunter safety courses for 23 years.

In May, the Craig City Council shot down an ordinance proposed by Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta that would have restricted carrying firearms in the open on city property and in establishments that sell liquor. Seventy people attended that meeting, but only Vanatta spoke out in support of the ordinance.

Across the state, Coloradoans are similarly wary of gun laws, a mindset reflected in a bill State Rep. Ray Rose, R-Montrose, introduced in the Colorado House Thursday. Rose's proposal would weaken the language of a background check law. State law requires background checks be conducted at gun shows whenever there is a firearm transfer or attempted firearm transfer.

Colorado voters passed that law in reaction to the Columbine High School shootings. Five years after the tragedy, Rose's bill would only require checks when a transfer occurs.

Moffat County saw two gun incidents in 2003. In April, a preschool boy brought a loaded .357-caliber Ruger handgun to school in his backpack. Police said he found the weapon under the seat of his father's truck. Preschool staff found out about the weapon before morning class started, and the boy was sent home. After a lengthy criminal investigation, the boy's father pleaded guilty to charges of child abuse in June.

In October, a Moffat County Intermediate School student came to school with a broken BB gun, but no ammunition. School staff confiscated the BB gun before the student entered the building. The student was subsequently expelled.

But local gun safety instructors said education, rather than increased restrictions, is the answer to ending gun incidents with children.

For preschool and elementary school students, the National Rifle Association produces the Eddie Eagle program, which teaches children that whenever they find a gun, they should stop, don't touch it, and tell an adult, Laura Tyler, a handgun safety instructor, said.

At his hunting safety courses, Stoffle mostly teaches younger people who want to hunt. But older people who want to learn about guns also enroll in the class. He begins his classes by teaching gun ethics before anything else.

"You just don't pick up a gun and know it," Stoffle said. "You have to learn about your firearm and learn it safely. It's the same way with archery.

"You have to put in your mind that you're going to handle the gun safely. It's there. The more people know about firearms the better off they are."

Tyler said the NRA preaches three firearm safety rules: Keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot and keep the gun unloaded until you're ready to shoot.

"If you follow the first three rules of gun safety, your chances of having someone become a victim are zero," she said.

In the safety courses she has taught for nine years, Tyler tells adults to keep all firearms locked in a safe place.

Bob Aaberg teaches a 4-H shooting sports program. All kids who wish to participate must first complete a hunting safety course. Aaberg said he believes children should be educated in gun safety as soon as they show an interest.

"We wring them out pretty good," Aaberg said. "Any of the kids we've trained I'd go out with anytime."

Aaberg has owned guns and had guns in his house all his life. He educated his kids and the guns were never a problematic issue.

"If no adult was there, the kids didn't touch the guns," he said. "The only time we had to worry was with someone from a family that didn't have guns or didn't believe in guns. Then there was a fascination with them. Otherwise, they didn't pay any attention to them."

Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or by e-mail at rgebhart@craigdailypress.com.

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