La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard has mixed feelings about a House bill that would allow people to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
On one hand, the permitting process helps deputies know whether someone might be carrying a weapon for example, during a traffic stop or when responding to a residence.
On the other, the permitting system doesnt deter would-be criminals from carrying a concealed weapon, he said.
If a person is dead set on carrying a weapon for any nefarious purpose, hes probably going to carry it, Schirard said.
House bill 1205, by Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, passed the House this month and is set to be heard Tuesday by the Senate State Affairs Committee. If it passes, it will go to the full Senate for a vote.
The bill would allow people who currently qualify for a concealed-weapon permit to carry a hidden gun without obtaining a permit. The bill does not change the law that forbids concealed weapons for people with a history of alcohol or drug abuse, mental illness or domestic violence. In addition, people must be Colorado residents and 21 or older.
As it is now, county sheriffs issue permits to anyone they deem fit who is eligible under the law. Some sheriffs are more liberal about issuing permits than others, but for the most part, they issue permits to anyone who qualifies.
When Schirard first ran for election more than 16 years ago, he made a campaign pledge to issue concealed-weapon permits to anyone who legally qualified.
Within three months, the sheriff issued about 250 permits. By comparison, his predecessor, Sheriff Bill Gardner, issued only five permits during his eight years in office. (Schirard beat Gardner in the election.)
Within seven years, Schirard issued about 575 permits, and as of this month, he had issued about 825 permits to county residents.
Schirard said he has revoked only about a dozen permits during that time because individuals were convicted of a crime such as domestic violence that prohibited them from carrying a concealed weapon. None of the revocations involved the illegal use of weapons, he said.
He has used his own discretion to turn down about 10 applicants, he said. Some were associated with outlaw motorcycle gangs or had mental-health issues.
If the sheriff denies a permit, individuals can petition the courts. Schirard has not faced such a challenge, he said.
Most people armed?
Durango resident Allen P. Small got his concealed-weapon permit soon after Schirard took office. He wanted the permit for self-protection when taking large sums of money to the bank for his business. He has retired, but he still likes having the permit for travel, especially to Denver.
There are some nasty people up there, and Id just as soon have a weapon on me, Small said.
Small was pulled over for speeding about seven years ago near Leadville. The officer asked Small if he was armed, which he was, but Small wasnt treated any differently or asked to display the gun, he said.
Schirard said deputies already assume people are armed. The vast majority of homeowners in Southwest Colorado have guns, he said, and Colorado law allows people to have guns in their cars without a permit.
The permits allow gun owners to carry weapons hidden from view on their person, in a purse or a backpack. They still are prohibited from having guns in prohibited places, such as bars.
The permit typically costs more than $200 for background checks and fingerprints, Schirard said. That can be cost-prohibitive for some residents, he said, especially if theyve recently purchased a $500 handgun.
Holbert, who sponsored the legislation, said the permit is akin to a coat tax because it is necessary only when a gun is covered, such as by a coat.
I look at this as cost-prohibitive to people on a limited income, he said Friday during a phone interview. Im just frustrated that the only people who pay that coat tax are the people who prove themselves worthy of carrying concealed. Meanwhile, criminals do not fret.
What residents think
Jeff Mannix, who teaches gun-handling classes, said he asks participants at the beginning of each class whether they plan to apply for a concealed-weapon permit. Nearly all of them raise their hands, he said.
But Mannix said he doesnt know anyone who regularly carries a handgun on their person while in Durango. He has taught more than 2,500 students in Durango.
Schirard said carrying a gun is uncomfortable something people quickly learn after obtaining a concealed-weapon permit.
Mannix said he supports the Second Amendment the right to keep and bear arms but he believes gun holders should be trained.
I know just what (inexperienced gun owners) are not capable of doing at the beginning of the day, Mannix said of his classroom experience.
Durango resident Nik Mavrotheris obtained a concealed-weapon permit 1½ years ago for hiking and travel.
Since Ive gotten it, Ive barely ever carried, Mavrotheris said. Ive never really found it necessary.
Though a member of the National Rifle Association, Mavrotheris said he supports gun regulation, including the existing concealed-weapon permit process.
There are limits to every right that we have, said Mavrotheris, who served 22 years in the U.S. Air Force. When the Second Amendment was written, there was no such thing as a machine gun or a semi-automatic weapon.