Sheriff not gung-ho on colleagues’ opposition to gun regulations

by Dorothy Atkins, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer

Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo is distancing himself from parts of a statement issued by the County Sheriffs of Colorado (CSOC) on Tuesday against tighter gun control laws.

In the statement, CSOC, a group that represents 62 county sheriffs across the state, takes a stance against gun control legislation that is being debated in light of the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn.

That day a lone shooter, armed with two handguns and an assault rifle, entered an elementary school and killed 26 people, including 20 children, and himself, after killing his mother in her home. The event has ignited support from a range of interest groups for stricter gun control laws and President Barack Obama issued a proposal earlier this month which aims to reduce gun violence. It includes enforcing stricter background checks and instituting a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

The CSOC statement says that legislators should wait at least a year before introducing new gun restrictions to ensure that the laws created are not just emotional reactions to tragic events.

The government also should not ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines or outlaw the private sales of firearms, it says. Assault weapons are defined vaguely so a ban on them could effectively outlaw common handguns and local law enforcement lacks resources to enforce a ban on private sales, the statement says. It also argues that there is sometimes a need for high-capacity magazines.

“Law enforcement officers carry high-capacity magazines, because there are times when 10 rounds might not be enough to end the threat,” the statement reads. “County Sheriffs of Colorado believe the same should hold true for civilians who wish to defend themselves, especially if attacked by multiple assailants.”

DiSalvo, who attended a CSOC meeting earlier this month where county sheriffs voted on supporting the memo, does not agree with much of the statement’s points when it comes to new gun control legislation, he said. Certain weapons that are designed to kill a large number of people at once should be outlawed, as should high-capacity magazines, DiSalvo said.

“I did say I would stand with them on this letter, but there are some things I feel differently about,” DiSalvo said. “In my mind and I think in most of our constituents’ minds certain weapons that are designed solely for the purpose of killing a lot of people don’t belong on the street.”

When the statement was brought up in the CSOC meeting, it was not a lively or contentious discussion about firearms, he said, but more of a basic conversation about the public’s right to bear arms and the need for more programs to support those with mental health issues, which DiSalvo supports.

“The letter was a little more in depth than what we started with,” DiSalvo said. “But I do agree with some aspects about it.”

For instance, DiSalvo supports a citizen’s rights to bear arms and he thinks it would be difficult to enforce a ban on private sales, although he thinks background checks should be required at gun shows, he said.

DiSalvo also acknowledged that the issue is emotional, particularly in light of the Sandy Hook shooting. That element of the argument needs to be set aside before new laws are made, he said.

“I believe on all sides this issue is red hot, raw and chock full of [emotion],” he said. “We have to take that component out of it.”

DiSalvo said he wasn’t sure if there needs to be a year delay before policy changes can be enacted like CSOC was calling for.

“I don’t know if I need a definitive time frame,” he said. “ ... But we really need to let this pendulum find its way back to the center.”