Rob Douglas: State gun laws miss the mark

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Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— 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.

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 8 months ago

Stopping felons and the mentally ill from being able to legally purchase guns is a commonsense step. Yes, it is impossible to generally verify that private sales included a background check. But it does mean that a felon or mentally ill person cannot legally acquire a gun. So the friend that got a gun for Ethan Ebel would most clearly be violating the law. Instead of the State having to prove that she did not intend to own the gun she purchased that was then given to him.

These gun laws have similar enforcement issues as speed limits. Almost every car is capable of violating the speed limit. There are many more miles of roads than officers so the odds of being caught if speeding along most of the county roads is pretty low. That doesn't mean that Sheriff's office doesn't enforce the speed limits. They will still occasionally catch speeders and even that chance of being caught is enough to discourage most people from blatantly speeding.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 8 months ago

From powerlineblog - A fine example of the knowledge of our representatives in Denver who are crafting our firearms laws. "It is therefore stunning that Ms. DeGette has–literally–no idea what a firearms magazine is, or how it works. Yesterday she participated in a public forum on gun control sponsored by the Denver Post. Asked whether her proposed ban on standard-capacity magazines would really be effective, given that millions of such devices are already in circulation, she gave an astonishing answer. DeGette said that magazines contain bullets, and once the bullets are fired the magazine is used up. Thus, she said, the magazines now in circulation will soon become unusable. She does not know that a magazine comes empty, not loaded with bullets, and it can be reloaded and reused thousands of times." Here is Ms. Degette's specific quote "These are ammunition, they’re bullets, so the people who have those now, they’re going to shoot them, so if you ban them in the future, the number of these high-capacity magazines is going to decrease dramatically over time because the bullets will have been shot and there won’t be any more available."

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 8 months ago

Yeah, DeGette showed remarkable ignorance.

Any number of politicians from both parties fairly regularly make stupid comments. That doesn't mean the policy itself is as stupid as one person's comments.

Otherwise, Sen Inofe's ignorant comments about science and climatology when arguing against global climate change would mean that there can be no valid criticism of GCC.

Otherwise, the stupid politicians saying that allowing two consenting adults to marry will resulting in allowing incest, bestiality and so on, would mean that no else can oppose allowing gays to have a marriage between two consenting adults.

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mark hartless 1 year, 8 months ago

Bull. She's an idiot, and by extension those who put her in office...

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Brian Kotowski 1 year, 8 months ago

Charles Krauthammer has floated the notion of involuntary commitment when an individual under care is raising red flags. It's worth considering.

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bill schurman 1 year, 8 months ago

So, Rob, please propose YOUR legislation that you claim that the legislature will not or cannot enact "to keep guns away from those who pose a danger due to mental illness."

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 8 months ago

We could lock up every severely mentally ill patient. Statistics show this would affect at most 5% of the violence problem. As our top law enforcement official, Sheriff Wiggins should know this!

And to resolve, at most, 5% of the problem, Krauthammer's suggestion would create an new path of curtailed freedom that I never expected to hear from the left or right. The act of free speech, a poorly worded blog post, could force you onto a doctors couch and put your freedom at risk?

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mark hartless 1 year, 8 months ago

"The act of free speech..." Why not? Doesn't the left favor "hate crimes" legislation? Hate crimes being nothing more than THOUGHT crimes...

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Ann Trout 1 year, 8 months ago

Good job Rob! I am certainly glad I made the effort to be at this coffee...7 am is early! I was encouraged to see so many other people from the community put in the time and effort to participate in real, honest and open dialogue about a societal issue that is so horrific. I can see the local community is "taking steps".

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 8 months ago

Scott, You should have stopped at "Yeah, DeGette showed remarkable ignorance." Any thing you posted after that seems to infer that because other politicians say and do stupid things we should give her a pass. Actually I believe "Stupid is as stupid does".

In addition to the Steamboat Pilot meeting I believe Sheriff Wiggins has held meetings in Hayden and Oak Creek. Much credit should be given to Sheriff Wiggins for his willingness to hold meetings regarding this issue and why he has responded the way he did. Agree or disagree, but at least he has been available. I may have missed the memo but have not seen or heard of our representative Diane Mitsch Bush making herself available to discuss this issue recently.

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cindy constantine 1 year, 8 months ago

Sheriff Wiggins will be holding the same meeting he held for Hayden and Oak Creek on Mon night, April 8 at 6:00 p.m. at the Community Center. I expect a very spirited discussion based on the meeting at the Pilot on Wed Morn. I would hope people on BOTH sides of the issue will attend and participate. Sheriff Wiggins does a great job at explaning why the new laws are "mostly unenforceable" as stated by Rob in the article. Before making judgements, please come hear the Sheriff speak!!!

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Brian Kotowski 1 year, 8 months ago

...Random mass killings were three times more common in the 2000s than in the 1980s, when gun laws were actually weaker. Yet a 2011 University of California at Berkeley study found that states with strong civil commitment laws have about a one-third lower homicide rate...

...The irony is that over the last 30 years, the U.S. homicide rate has declined by 50 percent. Gun murders as well. We’re living not through an epidemic of gun violence but through a historic decline...

http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2012-12-20/opinions/36018479_1_assault-weapons-weapons-and-magazines-gun-laws

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john bailey 1 year, 8 months ago

have I missed something here? what is the deal with needing liability insurance for owning a gun , and why are they trying to fine us for not having such insurance. to the tune of up to 10k. um, ah, , anyone? oye I need a hula and a cold cervesa...~;0)

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mark hartless 1 year, 8 months ago

John,

The answer is quite simple. "They" are simply doing anything and everything they possibly can to make life as hard as possible for gun owners... because the statist left hates anyone who can stand alone, act alone, fend for themselves, or who would defy tyranny.

Stalin rounded all the guns up "for the peoples safety"... by the time he was done 30 million of his countrymen were dead at his hands... the guy who rounded up the guns to protect the people.

But "that can't happen here".

Someone please tell me: Why the hell CAN'T it happen here?

If I live to be 100 I will never understand the naivete and ignorance of those who empower and elevate tyrants. It is as if they have never read a history book...

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Rob Douglas 1 year, 8 months ago

An interesting piece in the New York Times about the change in advise when it comes to saving your life during an active shooter/mass shooting incident.

See: In Shift, Police Advise Taking an Active Role to Counter Mass Attacks

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/07/us/in-a-shift-police-advise-taking-an-active-role-to-counter-mass-attacks.html?pagewanted=1&ref=us&_r=1&pagewanted=all&&pagewanted=print

"The speed and deadliness of recent high-profile shootings have prompted police departments to recommend fleeing, hiding or fighting in the event of a mass attack, instead of remaining passive and waiting for help...Research on mass shootings over the last decade has bolstered the idea that people at the scene of an attack have a better chance of survival if they take an active stance rather than waiting to be rescued by the police, who in many cases cannot get there fast enough to prevent the loss of life."

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Dan Kuechenmeister 1 year, 8 months ago

Interesting survey results. i have attached a link to the survey at the end of this post.

SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--

<p>PoliceOne.com, the leading online resource for law enforcement, today released findings from a national survey of police professionals that provide insight into the opinions of American law enforcement regarding gun control policies and the root causes of and potential solutions to gun crime in the United States.

The survey, which was conducted in early March 2013, received 15,000 responses from law enforcement professionals. It found that the overall attitude of law enforcement is strongly anti-gun legislation and pro-gun rights, with the belief that an armed citizenry is effective in stopping crime. Response percentages varied only slightly when analyzed by rank and department size. Among the results: • 86 percent feel the currently proposed legislation would have no effect or a negative effect on improving officer safety • Similarly, 92 percent feel that banning semi-automatic firearms, or “assault weapons,” would have no effect or a negative effect on reducing violent crime • Demonstrating the opinion that the best way to combat gun crime is through harsher punishment, 91 percent said the use of a firearm while perpetrating a crime should lead to a stiff, mandatory sentence with no plea bargains. Likewise, 59 percent believe increasing punishment severity for unlicensed dealers would reduce crime • Respondents were more split on background checks, with 31 percent agreeing that mental health background checks in all gun sales would help reduce mass shootings, while 45 percent disagreed • 71 percent support law enforcement leaders who have publicly refused to enforce more restrictive gun laws within their jurisdictions • 82 percent believe gun buyback or turn-in programs are ineffective in reducing the level of gun violence • 91 percent support the concealed carry of firearms by civilians who have not been convicted of a felony and/or have not been deemed psychologically incapable • Likewise, 80 percent feel that legally-armed citizens would likely have reduced the number of casualties in recent mass shooting incidents • 38 percent believe the biggest cause of gun violence in the United States is the “decline in parenting and family values”. This was trailed by “overly lax parole and short sentencing standards” at 15 percent and “pop culture influence” (e.g., violent movies and video games) at 14 percent

The survey was promoted by PoliceOne exclusively to its 400,000 registered members, comprised of individually-verified law enforcement professionals. Only current, former or retired law enforcement personnel were eligible to participate in the survey.

http://www.policeone.com/Gun-Legislation-Law-Enforcement/articles/6183787-PoliceOnes-Gun-Control-Survey-11-key-findings-on-officers-thoughts/

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jerry carlton 1 year, 8 months ago

I have previously asked for any left wing liberals who have ever served in the military or worked in law enforcement to step forward. I did both for a total of 7 years. So far no one has replied except for someone claiming Pat Tillman was a lefty. I could not confirm this on line as the reference he gave was Pat Tillman"s brother and some guy that sells T-shirts online. I admit that I did not put a lot of time into checking this out as I would rather remember Pat Tillman as a Great NFL player and Patriot who gave his life for his country in a terrible "friendly fire " incident. Besides, I am looking for a local resident lefty that served in either of these fields.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 8 months ago

Jerry, Don't keep your hopes up. This isn't the most attractive venue for conversation.

Dan, Interesting poll. Thanks for the link. Here is the actual survey: http://ddq74coujkv1i.cloudfront.net/p1_gunsurveysummary_2013.pdf

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jerry carlton 1 year, 8 months ago

Steve It would seem to me that this poll supports Wiggins. Having worked as a corrections officer in a county jail for 5 years, I found nothing to disagree with in the poll. Why would a liberal that had worked in law enforcement or served in the military not want to wade in on these conversations? Would they be afraid their liberal buddies would shun them or are they non-existent? Well I agree that the Peace Corps is also a noble calling but I doubt that it has done as much to insure the survival of this country as the military and law enforcement.

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rhys jones 1 year, 8 months ago

Jerry -- My four years in the Marines would qualify me as your ex-military liberal, and the reason I don't "wade in on these conversations" (to the degree I used to anyway) is because I found it the equivalent of banging my head against the wall. Nobody is changing their minds, you can predict what everyone is going to say, so why waste the time? I've said my piece in the past. Nobody needs 30 shots. The Federal Reserve will be this country's downfall. Some disagree.

What's REALLY important -- and the only thing that AIN'T scripted -- is the Nuggets/Spurs tonight. Ready for some fun?

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 8 months ago

Jerry, Yes the poll supports Wiggins. When I see this poll quoted on a larger stage, I'll trust it more. I've written online surveys such as this one. The text prefacing one is a huge factor in who responds. Also, #4. (below) makes me think some questions were omitted. Some of the other questions are the wrong questions.

4. What effect do you think the passage of the White House’s currently proposed legislation would have in improving police officer safety? Surely there is a question asking about the legislation's effect on public safety.

5. What effect do you think a federal ban on manufacture and sale of some semi-automatic firearms, termed by some as "assault weapons," would have on reducing violent crime? Even I would agree to little effect. I thought the recent legislation about assault weapons to be about mass shootings. A very small fraction of violent crime is mass shooting. #6. is same thing. But #10, conservative's preference of mental screening, is matched with mass shootings. Why handle #5 and #6 differently? It creates skewed results.

24. Do you think proposed new legislation setting a limit on magazine capacity would negatively affect you? 2/3 yes. That seems a cautionary flag. A law that you don't like for personal reasons will be hard to support in the rest of this survey.

7, 14, 15, very much support Wiggins.

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jerry carlton 1 year, 8 months ago

Rhys that is right one liberal that had military service. any others out there? You are right, no one is going to change their mind about anything. It is mostly our up-bringing and when we went to school. Those Nuggets are SCARY! I still do not expect them to win the West but I hope you are right. It sure would not surprise me to see them in the West finals against OKC or San Antonio.

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