Routt County’s Wiggins, Moffat County’s Jantz join sheriffs’ lawsuit over gun control bills
May 17, 2013
Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz are among the 54 Colorado sheriffs who filed a federal lawsuit Friday that argues new state gun restrictions violate the Second Amendment.
At issue are two laws passed this spring that are set to take effect July 1, limiting the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and expanding background checks to private and online firearm sales.
The lawsuit involves sheriffs from 54 of the state’s 64 counties, and most represent rural, gun-friendly areas of the state where they were elected. They said it was their duty to uphold the U.S. Constitution.
“We each took an oath. The line in the sand has been drawn, and we will stand united,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said Friday.
Wiggins sent a 1,000-word letter to the Steamboat Today on Friday outlining his reasons for joining the lawsuit. Wiggins was out of town and not immediately available for comment.
"The participating sheriffs agree that legal action is a necessity because the new laws are extremely problematic with regard to their enforceability and could pose a drain on already stressed resources," Wiggins wrote. "The new laws are perceived as being very poorly written with so much ambiguity that a clear understanding of the laws by citizens and law enforcement personnel could be inconsistently interpreted from agency to agency, resulting in law-abiding citizens being unduly arrested.
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"In addition, sheriffs are being encouraged by many of the citizens they serve to file suit based on the belief that the new laws violate constitutional law. The relief sought if the sheriffs prevail is an injunction against the enforcement of HB 1224 and HB 1229. If judgment is decided in favor of the defendant, then our desire is to establish clear, articulate direction in regard to enforcement."
Wiggins previously had said he would remain neutral on the lawsuit and "kind of sit back and watch." His letter provided reasoning for his change in position.
"After weeks of deliberation and discussing the details with attorneys, law enforcement officials and local business owners, coupled with the overwhelming encouragement from citizens on both sides of the issue, I changed my position and agree that pursuing clarification through this avenue would benefit everyone," he wrote. "This option is viewed by most as a win-win action regardless of personal opinion or belief, and a court ruling should give closure once and for all."
Jantz first announced his support of the lawsuit during a Bears Ears Tea Party Patriots meeting last month in Craig.
"I have received 98 percent positive feedback from people on my stance about the Second Amendment," Jantz said at the time. "My counterpart in Routt County, Garrett Wiggins, who is a friend of mine, has not received the same support."
In contrast to the sheriffs filing suit, the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police supported the bills, calling them “common-sense approaches” to protect the public “while not taking guns from law-abiding citizens in any way.”
The sheriffs argue the laws have many flaws that will make it nearly impossible for citizens to comply, and they insist the measures won’t improve public safety but will restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.
Colorado lawmakers passed the new gun restrictions in reaction to mass shootings at a suburban Denver movie theater last summer, where 12 people were killed and dozens more injured, and the massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. The debate about gun control was one of the most emotionally charged issues of the legislative session, with dozens of hours of debate and the White House playing close attention.
Relatives of victims of the Colorado shooting criticized the sheriffs for filing the lawsuit and accused them of playing politics.
“As a parent who lost my son Alex at the Aurora theater shooting, I ask these people to put themselves in my place,” Tom Sullivan said in a statement. “I do not understand why these politicians are picking guns over people.”
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said he and his colleagues were “not the ones playing politics with this.”
“We believe that the Legislature were the ones who were playing politics,” he said.
Opponents of the new gun laws insist the language in the regulations do not provide enough clarity or safeguards to protect people from inadvertently breaking the laws. They’ve argued that magazines by their nature are easily converted to larger sizes, something the bill bans. They also said the expanded background checks don’t provide enough exemptions for temporary transfers, and people conducting private transactions will have a difficult time getting checks through a federally licensed dealer.
Lawmakers allowed several exemptions in the background check, including exempting transfers between immediate family members, shooting events and temporary transfers of 72 hours.
Republican Attorney General John Suthers, who’s responsible for defending the state in the lawsuit, issued a statement Friday giving guidance to law enforcement on how the new magazine limit should be enforced. He said magazine features “must be judged objectively” and that magazines that hold 15 rounds or fewer can’t be defined as “large capacity” simply because it can be modified to include more.