Legislation banning large-capacity magazines in Colorado takes effect July 1. The clips pictured here at Northwest Pawn in Craig are among some of the magazines that will be prohibited from sale in the state beginning this summer. Pictured are a 20-round magazine for a 9mm Springfield XDM pistol, left, and a 20-round magazine, foreground, and a 30-round magazine for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Photo by Joe Moylan

Legislation banning large-capacity magazines in Colorado takes effect July 1. The clips pictured here at Northwest Pawn in Craig are among some of the magazines that will be prohibited from sale in the state beginning this summer. Pictured are a 20-round magazine for a 9mm Springfield XDM pistol, left, and a 20-round magazine, foreground, and a 30-round magazine for an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

Yampa Valley police chiefs weigh in on gun control

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Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta

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Joel Rae

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JD Hays

— With much of the country engulfed in a passionate debate about gun control, the majority of the focus in Colorado has been on the county sheriffs who have criticized two pieces of state legislation as being unenforceable.

On Thursday, the Yampa Valley’s police chiefs jumped into the conversation and joined their law enforcement counterparts at the county level in questioning the enforceability of Colorado’s newest gun control laws, including House Bill 13-1224, which prohibits large-capacity magazines of 15 or more rounds, and HB13-1229, which requires criminal background checks for private gun sales.

But Craig Police Chief Walt Vanatta said there is a clear distinction between questioning the enforceability of a law and deciding whether to enforce it.

“I’m not going to say we’re not going to enforce the law because I am not in a position to determine whether these laws are constitutional or not; that’s why we have courts,” Vanatta said. “However, am I going to actively pursue people who may be in violation of these laws? Probably not. We don’t have the resources or the time.”

Like Vanatta, Steamboat Springs Police Chief Joel Rae said he doesn’t doubt the new laws were written with the intention of making Colorado communities safer in the wake of the Aurora theater and Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.

But Rae also questioned the ability to enforce the new gun laws.

“Speaking strictly from an enforcement perspective, it will be impossible to be in a position to know about every illegal sale of every firearm or magazine or to know whenever a firearm changes hands that the purchaser went through a National Instant Criminal Background Check — just as it is impossible to know of every illegal drug sale,” Rae wrote in an email. “There will also be times when enforcement of the new gun bills may not be so difficult.”

Among Vanatta’s frustrations with the new laws is their ambiguity.

For example, HB13-1224 allows people to legally own large-capacity magazines as long as they were purchased before the law takes effect July 1. In addition, Colorado’s prohibition of large-capacity magazines addresses only in-state sales and transfers. There is no language that would prevent a Colorado resident from traveling across state lines to legally purchase a large-capacity magazine in another state, Vanatta said.

“That’s what I mean by unenforceable,” Vanatta said. “It would be impossible to prove when or where a person bought a high-capacity magazine because they aren’t stamped.”

Vanatta blames the ambiguous nature of the new laws on the politicians who wrote them.

“This is ‘feel good’ legislation motivated by the emotion created by the victims of shootings in this country, but they were written by legislators passing legislation they don’t even understand,” Vanatta said, citing a recent gaffe by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., who thought magazines could not be reloaded.

DeGette, who has served Colorado in Congress since the mid-1990s, is touted as a gun control leader and has carried federal legislation on at least three occasions to ban large-capacity magazines.

Former Steamboat Springs Police Chief JD Hays agreed with Vanatta’s observation, criticizing state lawmakers for carrying and passing gun control legislation without seeking the input of law enforcement officials to ensure the new laws could be enforced.

But for Hays, the ongoing debate about large-capacity magazines is a nonissue.

“Anyone who knows anything about guns can do just as much damage with a 10-round magazine as a 30-round magazine,” Hays said. “I can’t remember (which incident), but it was reported after Aurora or Sandy Hook that the gunman fired 154 rounds in five minutes, and they both had semiautomatic rifles.

“They could have gotten off that many rounds with a handgun, and someone very proficient could have done so with a revolver.”

Although Hays doesn’t disagree with the idea of requiring criminal background checks for private gun transfers, he said that legislation also fell short of its goals because it provides no mechanism for private citizens to conduct those background checks.

Perhaps state lawmakers assumed gun shops would have stepped up to provide that service, but legislators also failed to protect businesses from liability, Hays said.

“Since the law passed, many gun store owners have said they won’t conduct criminal background checks for private sales because they’ve been advised by their insurance company or their attorney not to get involved,” Vanatta said.

“There’s got to be some mechanism there to protect businesses from liability because there’s no way for them to know if the gun involved in the transaction is a stolen firearm or not,” Hays added. “It would have been easy if the legislation also contained language requiring the (Colorado Bureau of Investigation) to also run a background check on the gun.”

Despite the enforcement issues with the new laws, Vanatta said he doesn’t view either as unconstitutional, citing the impracticality of large-capacity magazines for hunting and everyday life.

“If you subscribe to the philosophy that high-capacity magazines are responsible for all of the gun violence in this country, then we should probably take everyone’s cars away from them, too,” Vanatta said. “The rationale doesn’t fit because it’s not the car that causes the crash, it’s the operator. The same is true for guns.”

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@CraigDailyPress.com.

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 4 months ago

Tom,

No, these comments are reasonable analysis of how it will be enforced and what might be flaws in the law.

The $10 background was changed after the initial bill had no limit on the fee and the pro-gun folks said that was a problem. One can hope they checked with at least some major retailers to make sure the retailers would do it for that amount.

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john bailey 1 year, 4 months ago

yet, wiggins got jumped for saying the same thing.make up your mind people

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 4 months ago

Wiggins did not say the same thing. He initially said flat out that he could not and would not enforce these laws. And he has been backtracking since then.

I'll agree that Wiggins most recent comments are reasonable for a professional law enforcement officer.

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cindy constantine 1 year, 4 months ago

Scott,

Wiggins was misquoted in the paper which you would have heard if you had come to hear him speak on Mon night--the paper supports Wiggins enforcement issues as stated in their Sun editorial--so give it up.

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john bailey 1 year, 4 months ago

yes he did, no back tracking scott. could not, enforce, go find the quote. i'll be waiting....... got that hair washed yet. puke, oh sorry...~;0)

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cindy constantine 1 year, 4 months ago

Once again, Scott, the biggest problem is not the fee, even though that alone may prevent the FFL from even bothering with the transaction. The bigger problem is the "law" DOES NOT PROTECT THE FFL FROM THE LIABILITY OF RUNNING A BACKGROUND CHECK FOR A PURCHASER OF A GUN THAT MAY HAVE BEEN STOLEN OR USED IN A PREVIOUS CRIME. You are a smart guy, why is that so hard for you to understand????

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cindy constantine 1 year, 4 months ago

Further, even if a $75.00 fee was approved and an FFL was protected from liability for a "hot" gun, the "law" does not require an FFL to run the check. If an FFL felt the "law" was a violation of the Second Amendment they may say NO to running the check. Frankly, I am tired of you bloviating on this issue. If you are genuinely concerned about guns, go spend some time with Ken at the gun store. He is more than happy to spend time educating any and all about the process. For instance, did you know that EVERY gun is sold with a lock in the box (or on the action)? This is to help keep the loaded firearm from going off in the hands of a toddler--if we could just get those pesky parents to be responsible.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 4 months ago

No one cares if small FFLs are not willing to perform the background checks. As long as Walmart or Sports Authority is willing to run the checks then it will not be too much of a burden on the private party seller or buyer.

The liability concern is theoretical because the FFL is not claiming to certify the history of the gun. It is like a home buyer suing the title company for not being told the roof is leaky.

The large FFLs could probably create liability release statements for the seller and buyer to sign that would satisfy their lawyers. Plus, Walmart is well known for fighting lawsuits so anyone wanting to sue is going to expect a long expensive lawsuit, relentlessly appealed, and not a nice settlement.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 4 months ago

John, I thought Scott's argument above was solid enough to lean a few fence sitters his way. Your comments, on the other hand, are probably even more effective - in leaning fence sitters his way.

vomit? puke?

Enjoy your weekend, just the same.

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john bailey 1 year, 4 months ago

steve, thank you for the kind weekend sentiments. it was very good , I had the pleasure to witness mankinds humanity by a group I am proud to belong to, helping a fella who is paralyzed below the waist enjoy his very first ever snorkel in the beautiful oceans of the Maya. a very proud moment for my group of people. as for my comments about said person, well lets just say the word of the year needs to be kept in the minds of the readers of this uh, er, fine local blog. I thought I moved away from boulder,co. sad to see it appear up here , but , what is one to do? remember how said person welcome a recent hire for the city, that's how he treats our military? how ever far he back pedaled , he still spewed . I just say things that a lot ,it seems , have the same feeling about this poster. but I can say I do like the way you articulate you thoughts.much better than me but, well that's the way I roll. xit , sorry Rhys, never made it to Stoker, couldn't come up with a good reason the help the evil empire with my fun tickets. best to use em elsewhere. like the other local establishments that care a little more about the locals.anywho ,love all the snow, fill up that river..~;0) off ta hula.

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mark hartless 1 year, 4 months ago

I'm so glad you guys have all the details figured out.

I'm going to stay home and paint my laundry room tomorrow if nobody shoots me.

Zat ok?

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mark hartless 1 year, 4 months ago

You know, just having that PICTURE of those magazines above this article is enough to get you kicked out of almost any gubbamint school.

I also wondered when I saw those m-16 magazines: how many leftists/statists would even know what those little "thingys" were, if not for the caption below the picture?

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mark hartless 1 year, 4 months ago

Certainly not some of those they have put in office to "represent" them...

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