Teller County Sheriff Mike Ensminger is one of 54 Colorado sheriffs suing the state of Colorado in federal court over two gun bills passed by the state legislature on March 20.
At issue are laws that ban the sale of ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and require universal background checks. “I don’t think any sheriffs are opposed to keepings guns out of the hands of criminals,” Ensminger said. “But that’s not what these bills are geared to do. The criminals are laughing at us because these laws are geared to take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.”
Armed with statistics, Ensminger argues against two parts of the bill, citing the Violent Crime Control Act that banned assault weapons from 1994 to 2004. “During that 10-year period, there was an average of 7.1 deaths per 100,000 people in the nation from any kind of gun,” he said.
When the ban expired, the ratio went down and, between 2004 and 2010 there were 3.2 deaths by any type of gunfire per 100,000 people. “Only two percent of deaths in America happened with assault rifles in 2010,” he added.
The number-one killer of law enforcement officers is a .22 caliber gun, which is easily concealable, he said.
“I don’t think any sheriff in this state is opposed to curbing criminal activity, especially for our own good,” he said. “But these bills don’t do that.”
Neither do the background checks. “If background checks were geared to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals I don’t think anybody in this country would be opposed,” he said.
However, Ensminger opposes background checks that affect law-abiding citizens and their family members.
To support his inclusion on the lawsuit, Ensminger throws out another statistic. “In 2010, we had 47,956 felons who attempted to possess, or possessed, a weapon,” he said. “Of that number, our Justice Department prosecuted only 44 cases, of which there were only four convictions.”
Warming up, Ensminger continues. “In 14 years, we’ve had 51 deaths from shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Aurora,” he said.
As he has before, Ensminger cites the number of children’s deaths from brutalization by an adult. “In America today we lose five children a day to child abuse by non-lethal means,” he said.
If not killed by gunfire and abuse, children die by inertia on the part of industry, citing the tornado in Oklahoma City that killed nine children May 20. “Those children died because they didn’t have a tornado shelter; they build them in homes in Oklahoma,” he said. “What is our responsibility as a government to the realities of what happens in America, instead of some political agenda?”
In Ensminger’s view, the new laws are driven by politics rather than a desire to legislate effective policies. “We, law-enforcement officers, are here to look at statistics and to curb criminal activity to the best of our ability based upon the reality of those statistics,” he said. “That’s what governs law enforcement.”
In the meantime, the lawsuit has been filed in federal court; Colorado’s Attorney General John Suthers will argue the case for the state. In addition to the 54 sheriffs, the plaintiffs include retired law enforcement officers, disabled individuals, civil rights and disability rights organizations, licensed firearms dealers, associations of law-abiding gun owners, hunting outfitters, the firearms industry and a manufacturer of firearms accessories.
“We are a gun-toting state, no matter which way you look at it,” he said. “We are a hunting state and have good responsible citizens. The people who have been involved in these shootings have had some type of documented mental-health issues, every single one of them. We need to address that.”
THE TWO LAWS THAT ARE THE SOURCE OF THE LAWSUIT
At issue for the sheriffs are the bills that ban all ammunition magazines sold or acquired after July 1 that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition. HB 1224 also bans most other magazines of any size because it prohibits smaller magazines that are “designed to be readily converted” to hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition.
As well, HB 1229 requires “universal” background checks before any sale or transfer of a firearm can occur, with some exceptions. Even considering the exception, the bill prohibits a wide range of common temporary or permanent transfers or loans of firearms between law-abiding citizens in violation of the Second Amendment.
The statute allows gifts or loans between some family members, but excludes many common family relationships, such as former spouses, other partners, stepchildren and second cousins. Therefore, a person may not loan or give a firearm to a former spouse, even when the former spouse has temporary or permanent custody of the couple’s children and needs the firearm for protection of children.
“I think our governor is smart and has made some good decisions but in this case he fell short,” Sheriff Mike Ensminger said. “By filing this lawsuit we hope it is going to bring wisdom, discretion and reasonableness to these bills.”