Open-carry idea fizzles in Castle Rock

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Castle Rock Town Council Sept. 17 considered making changes to its current prohibition against open-carrying of weapons in town buildings and facilities — because of Mayor Paul Donahue’s past request to repeal the prohibition.

And changes will be made. But the prohibition will remain intact.

A majority of council voiced their opposition to repeal, and the changes made will only be housekeeping changes to clarify wording in the ordinance.

The 5-1 vote — with Councilmember Joe Procopio absent — came after a majority of about 17 residents and business owners speaking on the issue opposed the idea of open-carry in town buildings, as did a majority of town employees polled. It also followed a report that the town’s public safety commission, which advises the town council on police and fire matters, had voted at a past commission meeting to recommend keeping the prohibition.

The council’s vote was to direct town staff to do some light housekeeping and create clearer wording in a new prohibition ordinance that would give the council full authority on imposing the ban. Wording is to be taken out that has the town manager, not town council, directing the posting of notifications regarding firearms prohibition.

The new ordinance will come before council later this year.

Before the vote, Councilmember Renee Valentine said she was really struggling about this because she believes in “gun rights and liberties … but at same time I don’t see the need to repeal it.” She said she supported the amendments.

Councilmembers Clark Hammelman, Chip Wilson and Mark Heath also expressed their opposition to repealing the ban.

Donahue said in a Sept. 19 phone interview that his dissenting vote was accidental. “It’s just one of those things … I’ve never done it before on council. Your mind just goes blank. I’m dead serious,” he said.

Donahue, who brought up the idea earlier this year of repealing the open-carry ban, said after hearing the thought-out, respectful comments at the meeting, he thinks his Second Amendment rights probably are still intact regardless of a ban — since he has a concealed-weapons permit and so can carry a concealed gun.

He said he still thinks it’s unfortunate there seems to be a stereotype that firearms owners could be unstable. “I have a hard time with that. But it is what it is.”

Also, he said, even if open-carry were allowed, the likelihood of ever seeing someone doing that would be unlikely.

But a number of audience members didn’t want that opportunity to see someone open-carrying in a community that several described as a world-class, safe and family-friendly community that would be diminished by a repeal.

“What’s to be gained?” asked Ken Kania, of Castle Rock.

Kania wanted to know how the town would assure him that anyone seen open-carrying had the legal right to have that weapon. He said his wife works in a public building and if someone came in carrying a gun, it would be unfair for her to have to make “a split-second decision” on whether it was a dangerous situation and whether to hide under the desk and get help.

“People do make threats and express their anger at the employees who work here in town hall,” a town employee, Tara Vargish, told the council. “I do not think that allowing open-carry in public facilities would improve those conversations and I think it would put town employees at great risk.”

Residents also expressed concern over the possibility of people open-carrying weapons into recreation centers, senior centers — or in parks, many of which are near schools — and had concerns about their children’s reactions and safety.

A couple of people supporting the repeal expressed frustration about today’s trend that makes children afraid of guns. One woman told of growing up in a mountain hunting community and how her children were taught to safely handle guns.

Castle Rock Police Chief Jack Cauley provided the council with a report prior to the discussion showing that of 32 communities surveyed, 15 do not prohibit open carry of firearms. Of the nearby local governments surveyed, all three, Parker, Douglas County and Elizabeth, do not restrict firearms in buildings.

Cauley’s report states there isn’t concrete data that people “who open carry are more like to commit a crime,” but there is also no significant data indicating that open-carry has deterred crime or been “valuable” in helping law enforcement during a crime.

His report also stated: “Anytime an individual has to manipulate or touch a firearm that is openly carried, the actions may attract attention from some members of the public and law enforcement officials.”