In a Western town such as Durango, cowboy types are seen strolling down Main Avenue, but are they packing heat as in John Wayne movies? Perhaps they are because legally they can.
The constitutional phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms” has caused a split in opinions nationwide.
“What if the government outlaws guns?” and “What if someone attacks me?” are questions people ask before pursuing a gun purchase.
With mass shootings that have occurred, patrons have often pondered the existential question: “Do guns kill people, or do people kill people?”
Bruce Dominey, owner of the Rocky Mountain Pawn and Gun store, says it’s both. People can be dangerous, and “this isn’t Sesame Street.” And, on the other hand, guns are designed to kill, not to wound, and shouldn’t be taken lightly, he said.
Purchasing a gun in Colorado is fairly easy if you have the right credentials. But there are stipulations, and experts say you should know how to use that firearm or you’re putting everyone around you in danger. And it’s possible that after pondering a gun purchase, you’ll decide it’s not really right for you.
So how easy is it to obtain a gun in the state of Colorado? It’s fairly easy if you pass the required background check. A firearms transaction record form, issued by the U.S. Department of Justice, and a form issued by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation must be filled out upon a purchase request. Lying on the forms is a felony offense. Buying a gun for someone who is ineligible to purchase one, called a straw purchase, also is a felony, punishable by 10 years in prison without the possibility of parole.
Reasons for failing a background check might include: having a felony conviction, having an outstanding warrant (even if it’s for a traffic ticket), being convicted of a misdemeanor domestic-violence crime, unlawful use of drugs or any other controlled substance, illegally residing in the United States and being subject to a court restraining order, among others.
As for marijuana use, the lines are blurred. Gun salesmen are divided about whether holding a medical marijuana card is considered “unlawful.”
System not flawless
If the buyer passes the background check, which can take anywhere between 10 to 15 minutes, and has the available cash, he or she can leave the store with a firearm in about 30 minutes.
The system is not flawless, though because it is legal for an unlicensed individual to sell his or her personal weapon to another individual. A recent law requires these individual buyers to still obtain a background check, but that law is difficult to enforce. Cole Hyson, who owns Colorado Trading Co. on East Eighth Avenue, said he’s had only about three people come in to request a background check before purchasing a gun from a friend.
To purchase a “long gun” such as a rifle or shotgun you have to be at least 18 years old, and to purchase a “short gun” such as a revolver or other handgun you have to be at least 21, said Hyson.
The most prominent model of gun purchased varies by season, but it’s generally a sort of hunting rifle, shop owners said. As for handguns, .22-caliber weapons are sold most often.
With guns one needs bullets.
Dominey and Hyson, who hold federal firearm licenses, have noted a shortage in ammunition. For reasons unknown, though there is some political speculation, customers are buying out all the rimfire ammunition, consisting mostly of .22-caliber ammunition.
Additionally, Dominey has noted, there generally is an increase in firearm purchases when Democrats are elected into office and after a mass shooting.
Dominey has encountered a variety of customers through the years, most of them average sportsmen and women buying for various hunting seasons and occasionally for self-defense. However, he said he has turned down shoppers who he believed to be intoxicated, depressed, uneasy, uncomfortable, nervous and who have intended to buy for an ineligible partner or for unlawful use. Dominey and his fellow retailers feel that using their personal discretion when selling a lethal device is extremely important.
When asked how he goes about denying a purchase, Dominey simply said, “We say ‘no.’”
Hyson said in selling guns a retailer has to be intuitive but also careful of not being discriminative.
Hyson put his instinct to good use when he denied a gun purchase to a woman who had an uneasy and “blank” demeanor. She appeared to not really know anything about guns, he said. Later, police contacted Hyson asking if the mystery woman had purchased a gun from him. She had not, but the woman obtained a weapon from another store and began firing inside a local restaurant. No one was injured.
Once a person is ready to make a purchase, especially if he is a first-time gun buyer, the retailer will provide him with a variety of options for taking a gun-safety course.
“Safety first, safety first, safety first,” Dominey said.
Joe Gabbard, a firearms safety instructor with Overwatch Tactical Solutions Firearms Training in Durango, emphasizes his courses on firearm safety.
Gabbard teaches first-time gun handlers how to operate, load and do other general maneuvers involving a range of firearm models. He wants his clients to get a feel for different situations, he said.
Gabbard also offers hands-on self-defense courses where people can learn basic techniques to stop and escape an attack.
“Every situation doesn’t revolve around you and your gun,” he said.
Conversely, if a gun browser feels unsure about purchasing a gun but is looking for a self-defense tool, a variety of alteratives are available at both Colorado Trading and Rocky Mountain Pawn and Gun.
Upon entering both stores, an assortment of pepper sprays, bear sprays, knives, tasers and stun guns can be found along a wall.
Rocky Mountain Pawn and Gun carries a popular brand of pepper spray shaped like lipstick that sells out quite frequently, Dominey said.
Open carry: Colorado is an open carry state, so legally a citizen can possess and carry a visible firearm, said La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard. The exception to this law is if the citizen is in a municipality that has outlawed open carry. Additionally, a person cannot carry a gun into a liquor store, bar, government office or school. Business owners also have the ability to prohibit guns inside their stores. At one time, Schirard said, people were able to “check in” their weapons before entering a bar. This is no longer the case.
Concealed weapons: Possessing a concealed weapon can get you into trouble if you are lacking the proper documentation. A concealed carry license is required to publicly carry a firearm in your purse, pocket, coat or anywhere it’s not noticeably visible, unless it’s in your car, personal property or place of business. The county sheriff issues the permits upon the applicant meeting the requirements. Schirard said he generally issues about 300 to 400 concealed carry permits a year.
Joe Gabbard, who operates Overwatch Tactical Solutions Firearms Training in Durango, offered four basic rules to live by when operating a firearm:
Treat all firearms as if they are always loaded.
Never point the muzzle at anything you wouldn’t want to be destroyed.
Keep fingers off the trigger and out of the trigger guard unless ready to shoot.
Know your target and beyond.