Despite another school shooting in Colorado, at Arapahoe High School in Centennial Friday, Colorado’s new set of gun control laws may not have as much effect as advocates hoped. Many of Colorado’s sheriffs, particularly in rural regions, have no intention of enforcing the laws, believing that they violate Second Amendment rights.
Colorado has long been a state that held fast to gun rights. Mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, however, encouraged lawmakers and gun control advocates to enact controversial legislation curtailing the public’s access to guns. The new laws require background checks for gun transfers and outlaw magazines over 15 rounds, The New York Times reported.
The Times reported that sheriffs like John Cooke of Weld County have publicly announced that they will not enforce the new laws. In a speech, Sheriff Cooke shuffled two 30-round magazines— now illegal to buy, sell or possess. He had purchased one of them before the laws went into effect, and one “maybe” after.
“How is a deputy or an officer supposed to know which is which?” he asked his audience.
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Many sheriffs have called enforcing the new laws “a very low priority.” Many echo the sentiment that they violate the Second Amendment and that they are too vague. Only seven out of Colorado’s 62 elected sheriffs did not sign a federal lawsuit in May challenging the gun laws’ constitutionality.
State officials and urban police chiefs are generally enforcing the laws and say that they are effective.
“Particularly on background checks, the numbers show the law is working,” said Eric Brown, a spokesman for Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado. According to Brown, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has run 3,445 checks on private gun sales and denied guns to 70 people since the laws were enacted.
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Despite the sheriffs’ open defiance, Colorado state authorities largely respect the autonomy of sheriffs to enforce laws as they see fit.
“We’re not in the position of telling sheriffs and chiefs what to do or not to do,” said Lance Clem, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Safety. “We have people calling us all the time, thinking they’ve got an issue with their sheriff, and we tell them we don’t have the authority to intervene.”
Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the Newtown school shooting. President Obama called for tighter gun control and expanded mental health care while commemorating the victims. According to Reuters, 80 percent of Americans support background checks for gun buyers, but Second Amendment advocates and the Congressional gun lobby have stalled federal legislation.