Our View: Sheriff’s gun law enforcement concern valid
April 6, 2013
Sheriff Wiggins and gun
The county’s top law enforcement official has it right when it comes to shortcomings in new Colorado laws.
Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins has taken a lot of heat in the past two weeks for his take on two of Colorado's new gun control laws, and we think unfairly so. An impartial review of the laws that ban high-capacity magazines and mandate background checks on all gun sales and transfers reveals flaws in the enforceability of both.
Wiggins has been wise to sidestep the issue of whether the new laws conflict with the Second Amendment; that's an incredibly divisive issue best left to the judicial system. Instead, his focus has been on the ability of his deputies to enforce the laws as written. And to that end, we think Wiggins' concerns have merit.
House Bill 13-1224 makes illegal the possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. But because the law allows existing owners of high-capacity magazines to keep theirs, and because most, if not all, high-capacity magazines don't include a date of manufacture, it will be virtually impossible for law enforcement officers to determine the legality of any magazine they come across. Adding to the enforcement challenge is a provision in the law placing the burden of proof on the prosecution to refute a high-capacity magazine owner's assertion they possessed the magazine before the law went into effect.
House Bill 13-1229 requires background checks for the private sale and transfer of firearms between two people, with exceptions including the gifting or loaning of a gun to an immediate family member. Again, the enforcement of the law is a challenging proposition, at best, for police officers. Without a comprehensive gun registry, who's to say where a gun came from and whether any transfers of ownership happened only after a background check?
As Wiggins said during a Coffee and a Newspaper community gathering Wednesday morning at the Steamboat Pilot & Today, virtually all Americans would like to reduce the number of tragic mass shootings in our country. There long has been a chasm between those who value guns for both sport and personal protection and those who think guns are nothing more than tools of death. So where is the middle ground? It's not in some of the laws that passed through the Democratic-led Colorado Legislature last month, nor is it in the guns-at-all-costs stance of the most ardent members of the pro-gun lobby.
We wish we had the answer, but we don't. If we're encouraged by anything, it's that citizens, lawmakers and officials in Colorado and across the nation are engaging in vigorous discussion and debate about gun violence and how best to prevent it. Ultimately, we think the most realistic solution will come from reform in our mental health system, both in better identifying the mentally ill as well as better providing them access to care.