Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs It’s unfortunate the Steamboat Pilot & Today didn’t have a videographer in the room during Wednesday’s standing-room-only Coffee and a Newspaper event featuring Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins discussing recently proposed and enacted Colorado gun control laws.
If there was a recording, all of Colorado could witness the top cop of a department responsible for protecting a county with a land mass larger than the state of Delaware discussing gun control from the perspective of a police officer who can articulate why the laws signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper will be mostly unenforceable and certainly ineffective at stopping mass shootings like those at Newtown, Aurora, Virginia Tech and Columbine.
Wiggins presented his views supporting and opposing specific gun control bills in a clear, concise, rational and level-headed manner. Significantly, he kept the focus on whether the new laws provide law enforcement with the necessary tools to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who have demonstrated they may be a danger as a result of mental illness. While mentioned, Second Amendment concerns were kept to a minimum.
Commendably, given that sheriffs must keep politics at arm’s length when it comes to official conduct that impacts the administration of justice, an observer unaware that Wiggins is a Republican would have had a difficult time detecting his political brand during his presentation. Emphasizing the nation’s bipartisan desire to reduce mass shooting incidents, Wiggins stated “we’re all Americans, we should try to unify instead of divide.”
As expected, much of the discussion focused on the law that will prohibit the “sale, transfer or possession” of new handgun and rifle magazines that are “capable of accepting, or are designed to be readily convertible to accept, more than 15 rounds of ammunition” starting July 1. While possession by current owners of existing magazines that hold more than 15 rounds will remain legal, the sale or transfer of those magazines will be illegal.
Citing specific language in the bill, Wiggins’ recitation of numerous reasons why police officers will be unable to charge a suspect with a violation of the law under realistic scenarios, other than a sting operation, was presented without political or ideological overtones. Of note, Wiggins made it clear he isn’t refusing to apply the law, he just thinks it will be the rare situation where his officers can employ the law.
Acknowledging his frustration with the law’s lack of efficacy, Wiggins put words to the feeling that gnaws at Americans as they watch legislators repeatedly pass laws that don’t address the crux of an issue: “Doing something for the sake of doing something ain’t always the right thing to do.”
Articulating his well-founded belief, based on 20 years in law enforcement, that there isn’t a magic elixir that will stop a killer determined to commit mass murder any more than the police can stop the idiotic acts of common criminals, Wiggins stated that “you cannot legislate the evil heart of man and stupidity.”
Undoubtedly, there were differences of opinion between some in the audience and Wiggins, just as there were differences of opinion between segments of the audience. However, there was widespread agreement in the room, just as there is across the nation, that we must take steps to better identify those who pose a danger to society because of mental illness and then ensure that the identity of those individuals is available to authorities charged with screening gun purchases and, if necessary, removing guns from their homes by court order.
In the majority of recent mass shootings in the U.S., the killer exhibited signs of being a danger to others because of deteriorating mental health. But, as Wiggins noted Wednesday, “the mental health system is broken” and his jail, like many other jails across the country, “has become a babysitting venue for the mentally ill.”
As a society, if we are truly interested in taking steps to reduce — we will never eliminate — mass shootings, we must insist that our elected representatives stop passing unenforceable and ineffective laws and instead pass common-sense legislation designed to keep guns away from those who pose a danger due to mental illness.
To reach Rob Douglas, email rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.