- Pam Zubeck
- Some believe target practice doesn’t adequately prepare shooters for real scenarios.
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, a staunch supporter of gun rights, says, “I fully support the concealed handgun permit program and am proud to state we have over 46,000 citizens of El Paso County who understand these rights and exercise them lawfully by obtaining a CHP [concealed handgun permit] through my office.”
Likewise, Colorado Springs Police Department spokesperson Lt. Howard Black notes the “vast majority” of concealed carry permit holders are law abiding citizens who don’t pose problems for law enforcement.
But with one in 13 residents of the county holding a permit, it’s a fair question to ask why so many people feel it’s necessary to arm themselves while working, driving or shopping.
Those familiar with gun issues say the reasons could be threefold. First, part of the increase is simply due to a growing population. Second, people want to be able to react to a mass shooting situation — such as the two in 2015 that claimed seven lives locally. “When seconds count, police are minutes away,” says City Councilor Andy Pico, himself a permit holder.
And third, some might fear gun laws will restrict their right to arm themselves in the future.
It’s worth noting that more people are licensed to carry concealed weapons here than in any other Colorado county — roughly 20 percent of the state’s total. And relatively few, apparently, abuse the privilege. Since 2010, the county has revoked the permits of 67 residents, which can result from being charged with certain crimes or moving out of state.
Colorado is one of 38 states that require a permit to carry a concealed handgun. To obtain a permit locally, according to the sheriff’s website, an applicant must be at least 21 years old, live in El Paso County or be stationed here on active duty status, have a Colorado driver’s license or ID, successfully complete a background investigation, pay $112.50 and present proof of firearms training by a certified trainer that took place within the last 10 years. Permits must be renewed every five years.
State data show that in 2016, about 61,000 background checks were conducted for concealed carry permits statewide. Of those, at least 7,500 came from El Paso County.
Getting at the reasons for the jump from 22,556 local permit holders to 44,968 as of June of this year is difficult, but there’s some correlation between high-profile shootings and the issuance of concealed carry permits and gun-control legislation. Consider:
• After James Holmes killed 12 people in a spray of gunfire at an Aurora theater on July 20, 2012, there was little change in the month-to-month numbers of citizens seeking permits in El Paso County.
• When a demented shooter slaughtered 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on Dec. 14, 2012, the Sheriff’s Office saw a nearly three-fold increase in permit seekers from the prior year, a pace that continued until July 1, 2013, when statewide measures kicked in that impose a 15-round limit on gun magazines and require universal background checks for gun sales. (Those measures later gave rise to the recall of two state legislators, including Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs.) In July of that year, new permit numbers dropped by about 40 percent from June and thereafter returned to historic levels in ensuing months.
• Permit activity again increased, but not as dramatically, after back-to-back mass shootings here in 2015. On Oct. 31, Noah Harpham killed three people as he walked along Prospect Street and Platte Avenue before being gunned down by police, and Robert Dear is accused of killing three, including a UCCS police officer, during a rampage at Planned Parenthood on Nov. 27, 2015. (Dear’s prosecution is pending a finding of competence to stand trial.)
Tom Mauser with Colorado Ceasefire, a nonprofit that promotes the prevention of gun violence, wonders if the training requirement for concealed carry is adequate, noting that inexperienced firearms owners can freeze in tense situations. Even highly trained cops miss their target under pressure, he notes. “Most people with CCWs [concealed carry weapons], when they get the permit, they’re doing target practice with nonmoving targets,” he says. “They haven’t been trained in handling those kinds of situations. There can be situations where they can make things worse.”
Mauser, whose son was killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, also notes that fears leading one to want to carry a gun for self-defense amid a mass shooting or a robbery are largely unfounded. “In general, the crime rate has been going down,” Mauser says, “and mass shootings, as bad as they are, they’re really not as commonplace as people think. In isolated cases, you can have those folks say they prevented something and were able to protect themselves. In reality, it seldom happens.”
Crime rates in Colorado Springs dropped in 2016 compared to 2012 in four of seven categories, and stayed the same in one — homicide. The four that declined were rape, robbery, burglary and larceny. Rates of aggravated assault went up from 2.4 crimes per 1,000 population to 3 per 1,000, while motor vehicle theft edged up from 4.06 crimes per 1,000 population to 4.33.
But during that same period, police officers’ response times to priority calls slowed from 12 minutes in 2012 to 14 minutes in 2016, police records show, so residents might feel compelled to enable their own defense until officers arrive.
Richard Patton, who works at Whistling Pines Gun Club, says when gun-control laws were introduced in Colorado in 2013, the club saw an increase in gun purchases but not much change in club membership. Members tell him they want to feel protected from a possible shooting incident but don’t want to openly carry to draw attention to themselves. One example are the “security teams” who work for local churches, he says; they prefer to conceal their weapons during church services rather than open carry, he says. Interest in church security intensified after a guard shot Matthew Murray at New Life Church on Dec. 9, 2007, after he killed two and wounded two.
County commissioners wouldn’t say if they possess concealed carry permits or carry at public meetings. County spokesperson Dave Rose says via email that Colorado law requires permit holders to reveal if they’re carrying only to law enforcement and that disclosing which, if any, commissioners have a concealed weapon would reveal details of the county’s security plans. Hence, “Commissioners have declined to discuss whether or not they have access to concealed weapons when they are seated on the dais.”
The county allows permit holders to carry concealed weapons in county buildings, except for the courthouse and District Attorney’s Office. The same is true for City Hall and the City Administration Building.
Pico says having a lot of people licensed to carry can be a deterrent to criminals. Asked if he carries at Council meetings, Pico says, “I’ll neither confirm or deny whether I’m carrying unless the need for judicious marksmanship arises.”
Five other councilors who responded to questions from the Independent — Jill Gaebler, Bill Murray, Don Knight, Merv Bennett and David Geislinger — say they don’t have permits. Other members — Richard Skorman, Yolanda Avila and Tom Strand — didn’t respond to an emailed question.