Editor’s note: Following last week’s Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon, Real Vail is re-posting a series of articles that were published in early 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting:
As the national debate rages over reinstating a federal ban on assault weapons in the wake of the recent Newtown school massacre and last summer’s Aurora theater shooting, most people in Vail are likely unaware that such guns are already illegal in the ski town.
Vail’s assault weapon ban was passed by the town council in 1994 and later approved by voters in a special election in February of 1995 by a slim margin of 357 to 331. Unlike the federal assault weapons ban, which was passed by Congress in 1994 and allowed to expire in 2004, Vail’s ban remains on the books to this day.
“[Assault weapons ownership] makes no sense to me,” said former Vail Town Council member Merv Lapin, who spearheaded Vail’s ban in 1994. “There’s no correlation between the Second Amendment and having an AR-15 [assault rifle].
“To protect ourselves against the government? The government has atomic bombs. Does that mean that we should have one too? The argument just gets ridiculous.”
Terry Quinn, an Eagle attorney who’s an ardent defender of the Second Amendment right to bear arms, was among those who tried to convince Lapin not to push for Vail’s assault weapons ban in the 1990s. He participated in an educational session at a gun range near Gypsum where Lapin test-fired some of the weapons that are now illegal in Vail.
Quinn said he wasn’t a Vail resident and therefore never legally challenged the ordinance when it passed. He declined to comment for this story, except to advocate for a test to see if the same level of carnage (20 school children killed with a Bushmaster AR-15 in Newtown) can be duplicated using a shotgun.
“Why go through all this exercise about assault weapons if the next guy who wants to do something nasty could just get a shotgun and do the same thing?” Quinn said, referring to similar statements he made in a letter published in the Vail Daily.
“I believe the focus is better made on excessive violence in movies, video games and other media aimed at young people. Also on mental health,” Quinn wrote last month. “[Colorado] Gov. [John] Hickenlooper has made some proposals that are worth considering.”
Hickenlooper wants to reform the state’s mental health system to make it easier to commit mentally disturbed people, and he also has advocated for increased screening for firearms purchases.
“Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?” Hickenlooper asked the legislature last week. “After Columbine, Colorado voters insisted that gun show sales be regulated, and launched an aggressive effort to prevent school bullying. We have shown in Colorado that we can learn from tragedy and make changes.”
But the governor stopped short of asking for new state laws limiting the purchase of military-style assault weapons or high-capacity magazines. Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette is pushing for the federal ban of such clips – blamed by some for the carnage in Tucson in January of 2010 that killed six and severely wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
State Sen. Gail Schwartz, a Democrat from Snowmass Village who represents a large Western Slope district that includes Vail, Aspen and Glenwood Springs, says she expects a “robust conversation” on these issues during the legislative session that kicked off last week.
“There will be a pretty significant discussion of responsible gun ownership and the issue of background checks, making sure that guns are not falling into the hands of the wrong people,” Schwartz said, adding Western Slope economies depend on hunting and sport shooting and those rights need to be protected and balanced against any kind of assault weapon ban.
“I know we’re going to talk about [banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines],” Schwartz said. “The question will be, what’s the state’s role and our ability to, one, get legislation like that through, and secondly, how do we interface with federal law.”
U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat from Eldorado Springs near Boulder, issued a statement last month questioning the ownership of assault weapons.
“We all recognize that Colorado and our nation have a long and storied tradition of gun ownership for hunting, outdoor recreation and self-defense. However, I am not convinced that combat weapons are necessarily part of that heritage,” Udall said.
“There are legitimate questions about the effectiveness of a ban on military-grade weapons, but I believe that a multi-faceted approach, including a ban on such weapons, can be crafted that works for Colorado sportsmen, preserves our heritage, and can and will help save lives.”
Since 2004 there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban, and California Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein promises to once again take up the issue this month. National Rifle Association officials are calling the passage of such legislation “unlikely,” even in the wake of Newtown.
All of the debate has prompted a run on such guns, which can be purchased legally at Wal-Mart and other major sporting goods chains.
In a press conference on Monday, President Barack Obama blamed the gun-buying frenzy on “fear that’s fanned by those who are worried about the possibility of any legislation getting out there.”