County Corner – Roger Baker

County Corner

Roger Baker

There wasn’t any particular connection between the firearms resolution on Tuesday’s agenda of the Gilpin County Commissioners and the shooting down at Arapahoe High School, though some advocates on either side of the gun control issue may try to imagine one. The resolution, in fact, was merely an update of a similar resolution first passed in 1975. State law gives County Commissioners the power to prohibit unsafe shooting in subdivisions over a certain level of density. We have a lot more such subdivisions now, so it simply made sense to add all those new (or filled-in) subdivisions to the list previously adopted. Since the second amendment to the US Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms—whatever that might mean—both the state law that allowed this practice (Colorado Revised Statutes 30-15-302) and the resolution adopted by the Commissioners on Tuesday recognize that fact by carving out broad exceptions to the prohibition allowed in the statute. Obviously, self-defense uses aren’t affected at all, and the laws also make clear that individuals can still shoot for target practice on their own property, as long as they follow safe practices. Most of those practices are defined elsewhere in state law, so in a sense this doesn’t really change much; but it does give law enforcement another tool to use in enforcing safe shooting practices, and demonstrates the commitment of the Commissioners toward achieving that goal. Of course, very little of the unsafe shooting in our County occurs in subdivisions at all, which is why the Commissioners continue to move forward with the shooting sports collaborative they’ve been working on for more than a year now. That effort involves the cooperation of a number of front range counties with the US Forest Service to identify sites—on private or public land—that could be developed as shooting ranges, though the level of development (and who would pay for it) is not yet clear. The thought is that if there were one or two established shooting ranges that sportsmen and hunters could use, it might eliminate some of the unofficial—and often unsafe—sites where shooting is currently being conducted without oversight or sound practices. Everyone who hikes in the national forest has seen these impromptu ranges, usually littered with trash and targets. Having this sort of unsupervised shooting is not only unsightly, it’s unsafe; because these areas aren’t marked or mapped, unwitting hikers and mountain bikers can easily venture into the line of fire without knowing it. As with any new law, law enforcement personnel—quite literally, the ones who have to enforce the laws—had some concerns about the subdivision prohibition. Laws have to be clear and consistent in order to be enforced, and the looming second amendment shadow means that any effort to limit legal rights will face scrutiny, if not an actual legal—or political—challenge. And as our recent recall elections in Colorado have demonstrated, any attempt to limit gun ownership or use is contentious. In one sense, this attempt to insure safe and sensible shooting is a lot like the Commissioners’ recent discussions to limit and control ATV parking up near the cemeteries. A lot of the issues regarding safety are regulated at the federal level, and licensing mostly by the state; but we still have an opportunity (and a responsibility) to see that operations in Gilpin County are conducted safely and in appropriate places. That’s really all that’s happening with this law, too. Safety first.