Routt and Moffat county sheriffs say they won’t, and can’t, enforce new Colorado gun laws
March 19, 2013
Steamboat Springs — Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins and Moffat County Sheriff Tim Jantz said they will join Weld County Sheriff John Cooke and not enforce gun-control measures expected to be signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper on Wednesday.
Wiggins and Jantz maintain the legislation passed by Colorado’s House and Senate won’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals and instead will punish law-abiding citizens. Both sheriffs said Tuesday that gun control has been the No. 1 concern of their constituents in recent months, and that every email, phone call and comment they have heard is from residents who oppose gun control legislation.
"I can't even walk out of the gym in the morning without people talking to me about it," Wiggins said.
Hickenlooper is expected to sign at least two new guns laws Wednesday. One requires universal background checks, include private-sale purchases. The other limits ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, though existing high-capacity magazines would be grandfathered in. A third bill enacting fees for background checks also has been sent to Hickenlooper to sign into law.
Wiggins has taken an active role in his opposition to the measures, including trips to Denver to join other Colorado sheriffs in testifying against gun control legislation at the state Capitol.
"I've been there for the majority of the opportunities to testify," Wiggins said. "Sheriffs are looked upon by constituents to step up and support Second Amendment rights."
Recommended Stories For You
Wiggins said he used his county-owned vehicle to drive to Denver and that county taxpayers paid for one night's stay in a hotel.
At his office Tuesday, Wiggins took out the clip from his gun to illustrate why he said the new law limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds would be impossible for his deputies to enforce. Wiggins said older magazines would be grandfathered in, and magazines do not contain dates for when they were made.
"There is absolutely no way for us to determine when you purchased that magazine," Wiggins said.
Colorado Democrats who support the gun-control measures have said they do not infringe upon the Second Amendment right to bear arms but rather take steps to keep Coloradans safer. Both sides claim the majority of residents are on their side.
Jantz said there is nothing that can compel him and other sheriffs in Colorado to enforce laws they consider unenforceable. He said it is not what they agreed to when they took their oath of office.
"It doesn't say I need to enforce every statute," Jantz said.
That also is the belief of District 8 state Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Cowdrey.
“Each county sheriff has to make a decision about how to prioritize and enforce the laws in the county they were elected to serve,” Baumgardner said in an email Tuesday. “I voted against the Democrat gun control package because I believe the proposals are unconstitutional and make law-abiding persons criminals and do nothing to improve public safety.”
The Democratic legislator who sponsored the universal backgrounds check bill told The Denver Post this week that sheriffs who are unwilling or unable to fulfill the duties of their position should step down.
“They are putting politics above their job,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora.
However, legal experts told the Post it’s the prerogative of law enforcement officers to prioritize how laws are enforced. Because most county sheriffs in Colorado are elected, the voters will determine their fates.
House District 26 Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. On her website, Mitsch Bush explained why she supported the bill limiting high-capacity magazines.
"Many of the mass shooters in the past few years have used 30-round, 52-round, and 100-round magazines. In at least two instances, bystanders were able to tackle or shoot the criminal, mass shooter when he was changing magazines. That one to two second period saved lives."
At the national level, The Associated Press reported that an assault weapons ban would not be part of gun-control legislation that Democrats will bring to the U.S. Senate next month.
"In a tactical decision, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., concluded that including the prohibition in the gun bill would jeopardize the chances for passage of any firearms legislation at all, taking away votes that would be needed to overcome Republican attempts to block the Senate from even taking up the issue," the AP reported.
To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com