AURORA | The debate over gun control has largely split the law enforcement community, with elected sheriffs on one side coming out strongly against further controls, and police chiefs on the other pushing for tighter gun laws.
“This is a topic that the chiefs and sheriffs don’t agree with each other a lot on,” said Greenwood Village police Chief John Jackson. “It’s just the way that it is.”
Jackson chairs the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police legislative committee and said the group expects to back some gun control measures during this year’s state legislative session.
That’s a far cry from what the state’s leading sheriff’s group has said.
In a position paper last month, the County Sheriffs of Colorado said they welcome a debate on gun violence in light of recent mass shootings, but they oppose further gun control.
“We do not believe that these tragedies should be used as the backdrop to advance gun-control legislation,” the group said.
In the aftermath of the Century Aurora 16 theater rampage and later the school massacre in Newtown, Conn., — attacks that combined left 39 dead, mostly from assault rifles — lawmakers in Colorado have vowed to push tougher gun control laws.
In a Feb. 5 press conference at the state Capitol, Democrats unveiled their package of gun control measures, which includes mandatory background checks for all gun sales, limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines, and a measure to hold owners, sellers and makers of assault weapons liable if the weapon is used in a crime.
State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, is sponsoring the background check and magazine legislation and said many in local law enforcement have voiced their support for the plans, though she declined to name them.
Fields said she anticipates some pushback against the bills from some of the state’s sheriffs, but she is hoping for support from others as well as support from police chiefs.
If the bills make it through the legislature and become law, Fields said she expects law enforcement — even those who might oppose the legislation — to enforce the new rules.
“The law is the law,” she said.
The state’s police chiefs will likely support some gun-control measures, Jackson said last week before the bills were unveiled, but he said they are waiting until they analyze specific legislation before they take a formal position.
Jackson said that in general, the group supports background checks.
“We are in support of checks that will keep guns out of the hands of people who are not supposed to have them,” he said.
When it comes to high-capacity magazines, the group could support a ban if the specifics of the legislation match what they’re looking for.
“We want to have to some degree the inability to kill, maim, and injure large amounts of people in small amounts of time,” he said. “That could involve limitations, we have to see exactly what that’s going to look like.”
The state sheriffs group, however, has said it won’t back measures requiring background checks for private sales or limitations on magazine sizes.
High-capacity magazines are important for self defense, the group said.
“When seconds matter, County Sheriffs of Colorado do not want to deny a law-abiding citizen the ability to defend himself and his family based on an arbitrary limit on how many bullets should be in one magazine clip,” the group’s position paper said.
Nationally, a similar split between sheriffs and police chiefs has also played out.
The National Fraternal Order of Police said in a letter to lawmakers last month that they support strengthening the background check system and empowering the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and explosives to take a stronger role in enforcing gun laws.
The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence, which includes several police groups, has taken a hard line on gun control, calling for a renewed assault weapons ban, tougher background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
“Banning these magazines will reduce the number of bullets a shooter can use before having to reload,” Chief Jim Johnson of the Baltimore County police department told congress last month.
The Major County Sheriffs Association, which represents sheriffs from heavily populated counties, has been less enthusiastic about gun control legislation. While the group said in a Jan. 29 letter to Vice President Joe Biden that they would like to see the federal background check system enhanced, the echoed what gun advocates have said when it comes to limits on ammunition magazines.
“The problem is not the law-abiding citizen that will follow the restrictions; the problem again is one of access,” the group said.
Locally, two of the lobbying heavyweights in the law enforcement community will likely be on opposite sides, something that happens often on gun measures.
“It’s been that way for years and most likely will continue to be that way for years,” said Christopher Olson, executive director of County Sheriffs of Colorado.
Part of the issue, Olson said, is that the chiefs tend to be from urban areas, while the sheriffs, other than a handful of more-populated counties along the Front Range, tend to represent rural voters. Also, the sheriffs are elected in partisan races, while the chiefs are appointed.
“The chiefs are in many ways dealing with a different group of constituents,” said Olson, himself the former police chief in
Whatever the cause, the difference of opinion on gun issues will likely continue, he said.
“There tends to be the chiefs standing in support of gun control legislation, and the sheriffs generally the other way,” he said.
Jackson echoed that sentiment.
“Every year we disagree with the sheriffs on some gun issues,” Jackson said.
But, he pointed out that it’s not just the chiefs and sheriffs who disagree with each other, the two groups also have a diverse mix of opinion in their own ranks.
“I can’t get consensus amongst the chiefs, and we are all chiefs,” he said.
I’m pretty sure Police Chiefs are appointed and Sheriff’s are elected. That may be the difference, the will of the people.
Rhonda Fields is correct, the law should be followed, and the Constitution is the highest law of the land. The Constitution nullifies any gun bans.
Police Chief’s favor this because they are beholding to the political elite. Sheriff’s have to have the peoples support. Poll the rank and file law enforcement officers. They are vastly against any new gun controls because they know that criminals don’t obey the law!
I wanted to learn about Colorado and ended reading about Joe Biden, et.al. mis-guided and il-informed Democrats.
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