With a mass shootings from Aurora, Colo., to Sandy Hook, Conn., in the national news, debate over gun control heated up statewide following the Colorado Legislature’s passage of a series of gun control bills in early 2013.
Resolutions supporting and questioning Colorado’s proposed gun control measures from banning magazines holding more than 15 rounds of ammunition to mandating universal background checks were debated statewide, with two state senators who supported the gun measures recalled from office.
During the debate in the state capital about pending gun control measures, Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi outlined his reasons for opposing the proposed ban on semiautomatic “assault” rifles, assembling for reporters four different rifles on a table in his office at the Ouray County Courthouse.
“What we have here is a .22, a shotgun, an AR-15, and this here is a Ruger ranch rifle.
“Which of these four is the assault rifle?” he asked.
The obvious choice appeared to be the third in line – a sleek Bushmaster AR-15 with a collapsible stock and pistol grip and a detachable magazine that could hold up to 15 rounds.
“Wrong,” said Mattivi. The sleek Bushmaster had identical firepower to that of the line-up’s last weapon, a rudimentary-looking ranch rifle. “They shoot the same round and capacity. Both are semi-automatics,” Mattivi said.
While a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles was not enacted by the State Legislature, Mattivi spoke out against potential gun control measures, and in May joined Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap and 52 other Colorado sheriffs in a lawsuit against Gov. John Hickenlooper and the State of Colorado, charging the new regulations violated the Second Amendment.
At a Montrose County Commissioners meeting, Dunlap received ringing support for his stance. “Kudos to our own sheriff for entering in this current lawsuit and standing up for our constitutional gun rights,” said Tea Party member Elaine Pigford, drawing a round of applause from nearly everyone in the room, including the commisisoners.
In Ouray County, Mattivi told The Watch, “The reason I got involved in it is because I am a firm believer of Second Amendment rights. I feel that what they are doing has pretty much violated our rights. When they take one right away, what’s next? Freedom of speech?
“I hope we can get back to normalcy,” Mattivi said. “We keep hearing that guns are evil and that they are killing people. It’s not just guns, it’s the people behind the guns. If they want to ban guns, let’s ban high-capacity SUVs. There were more hit-and-runs in Denver last year than I can remember. I think they are going about it the wrong way.”
Of the three sheriffs in the tri-county region, only San Miguel County Sheriff Bill Masters declined to join in the suit.
“I understand their feeling,” Masters said. “The laws as passed are pretty much unenforceable, and will not have the effect of reducing gun violence.” But, he said, “I just don’t think that suing the state is a good idea, and I’m not going to get in the middle of that.”
Masters said Americans are “refusing to study the fundamental issue of violence in America. We’re ignoring the problems of society.”
At a heated meeting held in Norwood in January, despite opposition from residents, the San Miguel County Commissioners voted, 2-1, to send a letter urging federal legislators to act immediately in support of gun control measures, with commissioners Joan May and Elaine Fischer in support of sending the letter and Commissioner Art Goodtimes dissenting.
“This is not just a local issue; it is a national issue,” May said, adding that while she maintains an open mind, she had heard from constituents who supported the letter. “It is our job to represent the people of the county. I am anxious to move forward with this.”
Many who spoke out against the letter charged it did not accurately represent sentiments of San Miguel County. “Columbine happened right in the middle of Clinton’s assault weapons’ ban,” said Norwood resident Mike Grafmyer. “Every American has a fundamental right to bear these arms.” To the commissioners, Grafmyer said, “I urge you to be silent on this issue. This letter doesn’t represent this county.”
But while San Miguel County officials approved a letter supporting state gun control measures, elected officials in Montrose County and the City of Montrose passed resolutions supporting their view of the Second Amendment and joining Colorado sheriffs’ collective lawsuit against the state. That lawsuit is set to go to trial in early 2014.