AURORA | Unlike a handful of rural sheriffs who have balked at enforcing the state’s new gun laws, sheriffs and police in and around Aurora say they will enforce the controversial measures.
“I plan on enforcing them because that’s what I swore to do,” Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said this week.
Last week, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a package of new gun control bills introduced in the aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shootings and a massacre at a Connecticut elementary school.
One of the bills extends background checks to private gun sales, one sets up a fee for gun purchases designed to cover the cost of background checks, and one limits new ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, though existing high-capacity magazines are still allowed.
The measures sparked heated debate at the state capital, and met stiff opposition from most of the state’s elected county sheriffs and the County Sheriffs of Colorado, the sheriffs’ chief lobbying group.
Early in the debate, some sheriffs said they not only oppose the measures, but said enforcing things like the expanded background checks would be impossible. Others called the measures unconstitutional.
Robinson issued a position paper early this year that said determining whether the law is constitutional was a matter for the courts, not for elected sheriffs.
When Hickenlooper announced plans to sign the bills, some sheriffs said they would not enforce the new laws.
First, Weld County Sheriff John Cooke said he wouldn’t enforce the measures, then the fellow Republican sheriffs in Moffat and Routt counties followed suit. In each case, the sheriffs who have said they won’t enforce the laws came from rural, conservative counties where the measures are deeply unpopular with voters.
Robinson, a Republican in his third term as sheriff, said he didn’t support the bulk of gun measures, but he will enforce them anyway.
“We will enforce the laws that are enacted by the legislative branch, and overseen by the judicial branch,” he said.
Enforcing the laws, in particular the background check law, could be a challenge, but Robinson said he and his staff will evaluate the laws between now and when they become effective this summer to determine the best way to enforce them.
“All of them have certain challenges but we will implement them to the best of our ability,” he said.
Aurora police Chief Dan Oates said his officers will also enforce the law.
“We will of course, enforce the law. That’s what we are sworn to do,” he said in an email.
Adams County Sheriff Doug Darr said he didn’t support the background check measure or the magazine limit, but he will enforce the new laws.
Still, Darr said enforcing the laws will be difficult.
“There are so many existing magazines and so many existing weapons. How do you enforce those things that are going to happen in the privacy of someone’s home?” he said.
The debate surrounding the gun laws was bruising, and several observers said it turned into the most-acrimonious debate the state capitol has seen in years.
The debate even split law enforcement along stark lines, with the bulk of the state’s sheriffs opposing the measures and police chiefs backing tougher controls.
Robinson said the debate was one of the most divisive he has watched.
“It has become somewhat divisive, and not just in the law enforcement quarters but in our communities across the board,” he said. The frustrating part of the debate, Robinson said, was that it became so acrimonious that one of the central issues surrounding violence — mental health — was largely pushed to the side.
“The discussions are so divisive they are also distracting from the issues that need some attention and energy, that’s trying to deal with solutions to the complex and difficult matters associated with mental health, criminal behavior and violence,” he said.
The only gun control measure Robinson supported was the expanded background checks, which he backed because he said it could help keep guns away from the mentally ill. Still, Robinson said he thinks the courts will need to clarify parts of that law as it regards to transferring guns to family members.
Darr said the root causes of gun violence — which often includes mental health and sobriety issues — still need to be addressed.
“We are not going see the success we want until we actually get in the dirt and work on those issues,” he said.