Don't expect new gun laws
I served as Democratic policy director for the Colorado Senate minority in 2003 — when the state legislature passed the gun law package that is now the law in Colorado.
These bills had been delayed since the 1999 Columbine shootings. But that notorious high school massacre had not really altered the laws’ provisions. The heart of the package was a concealed weapons bill that requires that sheriffs issue a concealed weapons permit to any applicant certified not a habitual drug or alcohol abuser; insane, or a felon. The law eliminated a sheriff’s personal discretion based on local custom or community safety concerns.
Out here in Colorado, the National Rifle Association is considered a left-wing Washington-based organization. Instead of this Eastern establishment group, gun owners look to the Rocky Mountain Gun Owner as their voice in the legislature and Congress.
A visit to the RMGO website today can give you a look inside the world of this influential gun group. Right now, readers see that the big concern is not the horrific massacre at the new Batman movie premiere last night in Aurora, Colo., but the United Nations conspiracy to control guns.
There is nothing about the mass shooting in a crowded midnight movie screening by a young man with an AK, shotgun and Gluck, wearing a gas mask, bullet-proof vest and neck and groin protectors.
If the RMGO were to weigh in, unfortunately, it would most likely be to advise moviegoers to bring an AK, gas mask and bullet proof vest of their own to the movies — to protect yourself and your family.
In Colorado, our gun laws were written to work for the RMGO and given the force of law by the Republican Party. Colorado’s 2003 gun bills passed because the Republican Party controlled both houses of the General Assembly and the governor’s office.
But if you now think that meaningful gun control can emerge in Colorado – you’re dreaming. In a state where large mammals occasionally make a meal out of their smaller, two-legged brethren, gun control discussions take on a more primitive and decidedly less academic turn.
In fact, if you think reasonable gun control is the entire solution to the now too-familiar occurrences of mass shootings, you are naive.
But does this mean we should surrender discussions about gun control, funding for mental health treatment and the role of government to radical activists and others who insist that government is playing an outsize role in our lives?
After the 2003 laws were passed, the courts weighed in and blunted some of the more objectionable parts. Most important, the courts limited the state preemption portion — allowing local governments to pass gun regulations more in keeping with local practice.
Notably, this meant the limitation of “open carry” provisions. Under the 2003 laws, any person could openly carry any legal firearm anywhere he or she could legally be — except schools and colleges, or if a property owner posted a notice prohibiting this.
But after the court revisions, Denver and other cities could pass ordinances with a blanket prohibition of the open carry of fire arms — in keeping with urban density and local custom.
But the question remains: What is reasonable legislation that would help stem the rising tide of mass shootings. And why is this discussion always propelled by the fringes rather than the middle?
To begin with, mass shootings can be as much about mental illness and the lack of a community as they are about unrestricted access to weapons. We can see that spending on treatment and screening for mental illness is finally becoming a bipartisan goal.
So why not reach a bipartisan consensus on reasonable gun laws aimed at curtailing gun violence? Would limitations on access to automatic high powered weapons like the AK and automatic hand guns make mass shootings less likely?
I’m no firearms expert, but it is time for those who are to make modest gun regulation proposals based on facts and statistics — rather than nonsense like international conspiracies to take away grandma’s hand gun.
On a day of sorrow, when the leaders of both parties talk about pray for the living, I am full of emotion and short on solutions. But it is time to try framing solutions from the middle out — and not from the fringe in.
Jim Merlino is a strategic business and communications consultant who lives in Broomfield, Colo., near Aurora.