Commissioners Approve Letter Asking for Quick Gun Control Measures
NORWOOD – Despite heated opposition from residents, the San Miguel Board of County Commissioners decided on Wednesday, with a vote of 2-1, to send a letter urging federal legislators to act immediately in support of gun control measures.
Commissioners Joan May and Elaine Fischer supported sending the letter; Commissioner Art Goodtimes dissented.
The letter, which will be sent to U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), and U.S. senators Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), comes during heated debate in Washington, D.C., over gun control measures following the mid-December mass shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The commissioners decided to discuss and vote on sending the letter, drafted at the suggestion of BOCC Chair May, at the county’s Glockson Building, in Norwood, where anti-gun control sentiments run high.
A standing-room-only crowd of residents – who, for the most part, were opposed to the letter – gathered for discussion of the letter, which called on legislators to require background checks for all gun sales, including private sales; to ban assault weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines; and to make gun trafficking a federal crime.
“This is not just a local issue, it is a national issue,” May said, adding that while she will hear everyone’s opinion with an open mind, she’s already heard from other constituents in the county who support the letter. “It is our job to represent the people of the county. I am anxious to move forward with this.”
Many speaking out against the letter on Wednesday 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, he said, “I urge you to be silent on this issue. This letter doesn’t represent this county.”
Dan Covault, a deputy for the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office, told the commissioners that from his perspective, bans on assault weapons or high-capacity clips are not enforceable.
“I am not looking at this in a way a lot of people are,” Covault said. “What I feel you are doing is trying to help the government enact laws that are pointless. They are not enforceable. I agree that we need some control over firearms.
“The only thing I do agree with” in the letter, Covault said, “is background checks on transfers,” which, “from a law enforcement point of view, I believe it is a necessity.”
Covault went on to suggest that the actual designation of an assault weapon is ambiguous. “How do we designate what is or what is not an assault weapon? We better know what an assault weapon is before we [ban them],” he said.
As for high capacity magazines, Covault held up a large magazine in one hand that would be banned if proposed legislation is passed; in his other hand, he held up two smaller capacity magazines that would not be banned.
The point, he said, is that even if a ban on high-capacity magazines is passed, a handful of smaller magazines are just as easy to conceal and use.
Resident Jim Fitzmorris told the commissioners if they want to control objects that kill people, they shouldn’t stop at guns.
“If your objective is to see that guns are controlled, you should add airplanes, knives and fertilizer to the list,” Fitzmorris said. “It’s not a question of the gun, it is a question of who controls the gun.”
Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser was the only audience member to speak out in favor of the letter during the meeting.
Following the 45-minute period of public comment, Goodtimes asked his fellow commissioners to put off making a decision until another meeting, so as to get more county residents’ perspectives regarding the county’s sending the letter.
“It is a very contentious issue and, quite frankly, we ought to rewrite the letter and have another hearing to make sure we are hearing from all over the county,” Goodtimes said.
He went on to suggest that it might be a better idea for the commissioners to write letters as individuals in support of gun legislation, rather than on behalf of the county.
Fischer suggested that the draft letter up for approval include language indicating that not everyone in the San Miguel County community agrees with the board on the issue.
May accepted that additional language, and then accepted Fischer’s motion to approve the letter where both May and Fischer approved it. Goodtimes voted against its passage.