Colorado sheriffs spar over firearm enforcement

FORT COLLINS – The sheriffs in Larimer and Weld county are at odds over how they would enforce new gun laws proposed by state and congressional lawmakers, a prime example of the quandary facing law enforcement officials in Colorado.

Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith backed off his hard-line stance against gun-law enforcement Thursday after he said he would refuse to enforce unconstitutional laws, including gun laws. He warned universal gun registration would lead the government to “target and prosecute law-abiding Americans who are simply exercising their constitutionally recognized right to keep and bear arms.”

According to the Loveland Reporter-Herald, Smith said later his comments were misunderstood and that he was not trying to determine which new gun laws might be unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, Sheriff John Cooke in neighboring Weld County voiced vehement opposition to President Barack Obama’s sweeping plan to address gun laws. Cooke said he would refuse to enforce any part of it.

“I’m not going to help him in any way. I’m not going to enforce it because it’s unenforceable, and because I don’t have the resources. The federal government doesn’t have the resources,” Cooke told the Greeley Tribune.

The Colorado District Attorney’s Council, the County Sheriffs of Colorado, Cooke, Smith and district attorneys from Weld and Larimer counties did not return phone calls seeking comment.

On Wednesday, Obama presented a major gun-control plan, calling on Congress to pass laws that would reinstate the ban on assault weapons, outlaw high-capacity ammunition magazines and require mandatory background checks for all gun purchases. He announced more than 20 executive orders that don’t require congressional action and apply only to federal agencies.

Cooke said he disagrees with the president on every aspect of the proposal, aside from parts aimed at addressing mental-health issues. The measures blatantly violate the Second Amendment detailing the right of citizens to bear arms, he said.

Cooke said of particular concern is the president’s request for universal background checks, which he said would halt private gun sales. That’s a step toward mandatory gun registration, he said.

“That’s not what the citizens of Weld County want,” Cooke said.

Elected officials in Tennessee, Wyoming, Utah and Alaska have taken defiance a step further, proposing laws that would make it a crime to enforce federal gun restrictions. Cooke said such a law is unlikely in Colorado, but he wouldn’t rule out some sort of legal action against the federal government.