Gun control sparks debate

Leaders agree regulation isn't always the answer to weapons issues

The local, regional and national debate about gun control inevitably re-sparks itself in the wake of tragic shootings, whether school- or not school-related.

In the two weeks following the Virginia Tech massacre, politicians, religious and school officials are again examining the legislation designed to protect our nation from such tragedies. On the converse, many officials, including those from Northwest Colorado, disregard the concept of gun control as an effective tool and argue gun control violates a person's Second Amendment right -- the right to bear arms.

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Dudley Brown, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a Denver-based nonprofit gun lobbyist group, said gun control does nothing more than infringe on people's civil rights to own a gun.

"Much like Columbine, the Virginia Tech shooting will be used as a springboard for more gun control. The concept in question is that by somehow passing an ordinance you can control human behavior," he said. "That just isn't looking at history or the reality of the situation."

Brown likened gun control to passing a bill that would prohibit fires in school.

Colorado "Gov. Bill Ritter could sign a bill that would say there are to be no more fires in school," he said. "Then we could remove all the fire extinguishers because obviously the fire would obey that ordinance. Same thing with 'gun-free zones.' It's a joke. What that means is 'good-guys-won't-be-carrying-guns zone.' It's just faulty logic."

Everyone else

Dan Holcomb, owner of Circle H Firearms in Steamboat Springs and a retired police officer, said in the weeks following the Virginia Tech shooting, he has been swamped with calls from concerned residents about personal safety and has noticed a slight increase in gun sales.

"I've got to tell you, everyone talks about gun control, but no one talks about the 8 million-plus guns that have never harmed a soul or the 12 million-plus gun owners who have never harmed a soul," he said.

Holcomb said he wouldn't support any gun control legislation, except one that would require potential gun owners to be a U.S. citizen.

"Owning a gun is not a privilege, it's a right," he said. "I think everyone's main concern is the political climate. What's going to happen? The issue of gun control is cyclical, and it's a very political issue."

Ken Brenner, chairman of the Routt County Democratic Party, said his organization has not discussed the issue at-depth and therefore does not have a local position.

"Living in Northwest Colorado, we're always going to have sportsmen with guns," he said. "It's a way of life here, and I've never heard anyone express the desire to change that, myself included. As sportsmen, that's their right."

Easy access

The enforcement aspect of keeping guns out of the wrong person's hands continues to be a hot topic.

Holcomb said any potential customer of Circle H Firearms must go through a Colorado Bureau of Investigation background check, be of a certain age and fill out other local and federal forms before purchasing a gun, but that those guidelines don't always keep guns away from someone determined to get one.

"It is very true that anyone can get a gun," Holcomb said. "As a private person, you can take an ad out in your newspaper, meet someone at 7-Eleven, tell them you're Donald Duck, hand them $100, and the transaction is done."

Going one step further, Brown said if someone with mental health or anger management issues is determined to commit a crime, he or she will find another way to do it or another way to find a weapon.

"That person always has access to a car or any other variety of weapon," he said. "The tendency is to blame an inanimate object for these crimes out of emotion, not reason. Even the most draconian gun laws would not have prevented what happened in Virginia."

Being armed

Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall, an ardent advocate for protecting civil liberties and constitutional rights, said although his beliefs on guns and gun control have changed throughout the years, he adamantly supports anyone's right to bear arms and possess concealed weapons permits.

"I've been looking at this situation in a variety of capacities for 40 years," he said. "There was a time when I thought there was a way to eliminate handguns and the world would have been a much happier place. I no longer feel that way, and I haven't for a long time."

Through state statute, the Routt County Sheriff's Office is the only agency in the county that can grant concealed weapons permits, which Wall said he is "happy to abide by."

"In light of the Virginia Tech shooting, I can't help but think if someone was in one of those classes and was legally carrying a concealed weapon, that the outcome would have been much different," he said. "Having that school be a gun-free zone was a mistake."

Wall said he appreciates the governmental checks that are in place to mitigate gun purchases and would support even stricter requirements in the future.

"I'm not anti-gun control, because I believe there are some people that shouldn't possess a weapon, but people are entitled to protect themselves and others," he said.

It would be unrealistic to think the government would ever ban guns entirely, he added.

"Government would never be successful at eliminating guns in our society," he said. "Even if they were to amend the U.S. Constitution -- which would never, ever happen -- people would never give up their guns."

Brown agreed.

"The initial reaction to these types of shootings is, 'Oh my gosh, America is a murder factory,' but there were students on that campus that could have had guns and a lot of blame is being put on the shoulders of those senators that killed the bill that would have allowed students and faculty to possess a firearm."

In Routt County, county employees are not allowed to carry weapons on county premises, which is a huge concern to Wall.

"People get upset with the government and come into government buildings and post offices and have done those things," he said referring to government-related shootings. "I think the county should re-examine that policy, because if you have the (concealed weapons) permit, you should be able to carry that weapon. It doesn't always mean you're going to."

Safety first

Regardless of political affiliation or gun control position, proper training and adequate safety measures are the most important conversations to have regarding gun safety, officials said.

"We're advocates of training," Brown said. "We believe you should spend just as much money on training as you did on your weapon."

Steamboat Springs Det. Capt. Bob Del Valle said people too often purchase guns after shootings for the wrong reasons and don't invest the proper amount of training to handle the weapon properly.

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