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Citing U.S. constitution, county commissioners OK guns in parks

By: matt steiner
March 11, 2014 Updated: March 11, 2014 at 5:45 pm
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"It's extremely important to emphasize that the 2nd Amendment is not conditional," El Paso County Commissioner for District 2 Amy Lathen said. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette

Gun owners now will be able to openly carry firearms in El Paso County parks.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously passed parks rule changes Tuesday during its regular meeing that include tweaking the regulation that had banned open carry. The 4-0 vote came in the absence of Chairman Dennis Hisey, who left the regular meeting shortly after noon.

Hisey said moments before exiting that he was also in favor of the change to the gun rule and was confident that if he had stayed the vote would have remained unanimous. While the rule change allows open carry, it forbids the discharge of guns, fireworks or explosive device in a county park.

Each of the commissioners mentioned their oath to uphold the United States Constitution and the 2nd Amendment, which gives citizens the right to bear arms. Multiple board members also said they did not want to incriminate law-abiding citizens who simply want to defend themselves.

"We don't get to cherry-pick what provisions of the constitution to support," said Darryl Glenn, the District 1 representative.

Amy Lathen, of District 2, agreed with Glenn

"It's extremely important to emphasize that the 2nd Amendment is not conditional."

Commissioner Peggy Littleton added that there is a need for consistency in the region. The City of Colorado Springs also allows open firearms in their parks after a ban was repealed in 2003. Littleton said people "just go to the park, they don't always know if they are in a county or city park."

People spoke in favor and against the rule change during the public comment period.

"This is a huge safety and welfare problem," said Brooke Squires, who opposes any guns in county parks.

Squires said conflicts could arise and people with guns who feel "emboldened" would reach for their firearms instead of settling things peacefully.

Cindy Kulp also said people carrying guns are emboldened. She and Squires said before the vote that the city of Colorado Springs should follow the county and ban guns in parks.

"We have the 2nd Amendment," Kulp said. "But we also have the ability to limit guns where it's not safe to shoot them."

Multiple people also spoke out in favor of the board's decision.

Clay Turner said there is a "misguided belief that a gun-free zone will enhance public safety." He pointed to several school shootings, including the April 20, 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, and said criminals who want to harm others will bring their guns despite the rules.

Turner argued that law-abiding gun owners are not the criminals. He and Lathen each said that there is no empirical evidence that shows open carry leads to more violence.

"I have missed all the reports of a rampage in our city parks because of open carry," Turner said.

"The notion that it endangers the public is not supported by any facts whatsoever," Lathen said.

Most of the other proposed parks rule changes were merely a matter of word editing. But the council did address whether to allow smoking in county parks.

The county's Director of Community Services Tim Wolken presented the potential changes and described a ban on smoking because of the fire danger it could create.

The board voted 3-1 against the ban, but noted a need for signs reinforcing potential fire dangers and the need to smoke responsibly. Smoking marijuana is not permitted on public property in Colorado.

In other business:

The El Paso County Commissioners voted 5-0 to approve a resolution to support a collaborative effort between the county and the City of Colorado Springs in governing the City For Champions project. The vote was held before Hisey excused himself on Tuesday.

The decision on the ceremonial resolution was made after much debate. Commissioner Glenn proposed an amendment that was eventually included. The amendment states that the BOCC would require a third party financial analysis and third party legal opinion in order to determine "whether any of the proposed projects require a public vote by the City of Colorado Springs."

The City For Champions initiative includes four proposed tourism projects for Colorado Springs - a downtown Olympic Museum; a downtown sports and event center; a new Air Force Academy visitors center; and a sports medicine and performance center at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

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