By Heath Urie
Sunday, October 21, 2007

A customer browses the gun case at Grandpa's Pawn & Gun in Longmont earlier this month, looking at handguns. In Boulder County, about one out of every 193 people have a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

A customer browses the gun case at Grandpa's Pawn & Gun in Longmont earlier this month, looking at handguns. In Boulder County, about one out of every 193 people have a permit to carry a concealed handgun.

Whether tucked inside waistbands, slipped in jacket pockets or holstered around ankles, chances are most handguns being carried around Boulder County go unnoticed.

"You wouldn't know I'm carrying," said 46-year-old Longmont resident Rod Brandenburg, who occasionally packs a fully loaded .45-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol.

Brandenburg owns Grandpa's Pawn & Gun on Longmont's Main Street the fourth-highest-volume gun dealer in Colorado and is among the 1,462 people living in Boulder County who have a government permit to secretly arm themselves in public.
"When I take deposits to the bank if it's a large deposit or a small deposit I want to be able to protect it," Brandenburg said. "There's a reason our forefathers made the 'right to bear arms' the Second Amendment; it's very important."

In Boulder County, about one out of every 193 people have a permit to carry a concealed handgun, according to a report compiled by the Sheriff's Office. So far this year, 258 permits have been issued to Boulder County residents, already tying the highest number of permits issued by the sheriff since Colorado changed its concealed-carry laws four years ago.

Legislation passed in 2003 made Colorado a "shall-issue state," requir-ing county sheriff's offices to issue concealed-handgun permits to people who pass the necessary criminal background checks, pay a fee of $152.50, prove proficiency with a handgun through a safety class or prior experience and don't give authorities any reason to believe they might be a danger to themselves or to others.

Permits 'up significantly' in Colo.

Susan Kitchen, a Colorado Bureau of Investigation agent in charge of the concealed-handgun background-check program, said she has seen interest in carrying concealed weapons spike in recent years.

"Based on the number of background checks we're performing, I would say they've gone up significantly," Kitchen said.

Statewide, a total of 27,370 concealed-handgun permits were issued to residents from 2003 to 2006, according to the County Sheriffs of Colorado, the organization tasked with tracking permit statistics for the state Legislature.

Of Colorado's 64 counties, Boulder County ranks 10th in the number of such permits issued from 2003 to 2006, with 966. However, the county is 55th in the ratio of permits issued over the four-year period to its total population of about 282,000 people.

Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle was instrumental in passing the 2003 legislation in his role as a member of the board of directors for the CBI Colorado Crime Information Center, just prior to being elected sheriff.

"We took a number of agency policies and sort of melded them together and started to negotiate (with the pro-gun lobby)," Pelle said. "It actually mirrors the old (Boulder) County policy in a lot of ways."

He said that, from a law-enforcement perspective, the current set of regulations is easier to manage than "inconsistent" former laws that varied across the state.

Some county sheriffs prior to the 2003 laws, Pelle said were charging "exorbitant" amounts of money to issue handgun permits to virtually anyone, while other agencies refused to hand out any permits at all.

"There were places that were permit mills," he said. "It was probably their main income. At least we've eliminated all of that, and it's a consistent set of rules statewide."

He said the majority of people who come to his office to apply for a permit say they're doing it "as an exercise of their Second Amendment rights because they can."

"We get very few people who come to us saying they need a permit for self-protection, that they're in fear," he said.
'It's the ones you don't know about'

The people who receive permits and decide to use them, Pelle said, are usually not a concern to officers.

"Generally, people who take the time to go to class, learn the legalities and practical aspects of handling a gun, and who go to the trouble and expense to get a permit are law-abiding people who do not concern us," Pelle said. "There's a lot of people out there carrying guns, and believe me, they're not applying for permits. It's the ones you don't know about that are a bigger concern."

The number of crime victims who successfully use firearms to defend themselves is small, according to the FBI. In 2006, out of 14,990 Americans who died by gunfire, 195 were shot in justifiable homicides by private citizens with firearms, the FBI reported.

Ken Jones, a 41-year-old Longmont resident shopping for a gun at Grandpa's Pawn & Gun earlier this month, said he's glad to see more people applying for concealed-carry permits each year.

"I think people are responsible for their own safety," Jones said. "The people that are carrying concealed weapons are law-abiding citizens. They'd have to be; otherwise they wouldn't go out of their way to be scrutinized. The criminals are also aware of increased concealed-carry permits."

Ann Coakley, whose daughter was killed by an errant bullet in 1996 in Boulder, has worked to strengthen gun laws.

"People carrying guns do not make me feel any safer," Coakley said. "The man who killed my daughter had a concealed-carry permit. The man also taught gun safety. It didn't save my daughter's life."

Tom Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed in the Columbine High School shooting rampage in 1999, spoke out against the 2003 concealed-weapon law because he said it took "discretion" away from local sheriffs.

"I think (the issue of carrying concealed handguns is) going to be one of those things like a lot of issues in America until there is an outright crisis, something that really gets attention, it's tough to bring about change," Mauser said.

Database lands sheriff on 'hate-mail list'

The Boulder County sheriff successfully lobbied state lawmakers last year to extend a database accessible to sheriffs to input the names of permit holders. The database helps officers in the field identify those who carry handguns legally, he said, and helps him determine if someone needs to have a permit revoked or denied.

"Because I enter my (concealed-weapon) permit holders into the database, I have been notified on at least a dozen occasions of permit holders who have gone crazy and been taken to mental hospitals, taken to alcohol or addiction recovery centers and who have been arrested by the police," he said.

Brian Malte, state legislative director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C., agreed that the database is important.

"We feel very strongly that law enforcement not only needs access to those who have been issued concealed-handgun permits, but it needs to be readily available," Malte said. "There needs to be a swift and rapid system to revoke a license of someone who's fallen into a prohibited category."

For his legislative efforts, Pelle said he's been placed on a "hate-mail list" by pro-gun groups, including Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the largest Colorado gun lobby.

Dudley Brown, executive director of the group, is critical of Pelle for his use of the permit database.

"We believe it's entering law-abiding citizens into a criminal database that makes them at grave risk to overzealous law enforcement, and it puts them in a very precarious situation," Brown said. "We'll be fighting for its repeal."

Brown, who said his organization believes "More guns means less crime," said Colorado is "in the middle of the pack" when it comes to gun legislation. He said carrying a concealed weapon is the "accepted means" of self-defense in the United States.

He said he thinks more and more people are getting concealed-carry permits in Colorado because it's now easier and more streamlined for people to do so.

"Clearly, the decade-long debate that ended in 2003 let a lot of people know that a concealed-weapon permit was an option, and a lot of people chose it," Brown said. "I believe the reason you see these kinds of numbers from Boulder County is that even liberals are starting to understand it's a civil right to be able to defend yourself."

Guns and students can be 'a dangerous mix'

Brown and his pro-gun lobby also are critical of the University of Colorado regents, who have banned the carrying of firearms on the CU campus with the exception of police storage areas for students living in residence halls.

"We have challenged the regents to overturn that ban, not only for students but for visitors on campus," Brown said. "We think it's morally and ethically outrageous that they would deny a 23-year-old nursing student the right to defend herself when she gets out of a late-night class."

CU's policy prohibits the possession of any "dangerous or illegal weapon that could be an instrument of offensive or defensive combat; anything used or designed to be used in destroying, defeating or injuring a person; an instrument designed or likely to produce bodily harm; or an instrument by the use of which a fatal wound could be given."

CU police Cmdr. Brad Wiesley said he couldn't recall an incident in at least the past four years in which a person was caught carrying a concealed handgun on campus property.

In August, however, 19-year-old CU student Matthew Furnish received one year of probation and was suspended from the university for two years after pleading guilty to unlawful conduct on public property in connection with a cache of weapons and ammunition police found in his dorm room.

Wiesley said students generally make good use of the police gun lockers that offer 24-hour access.

"If people want to engage in legal firearms-related activities, and they happen to live on campus, we want to be able to allow them to pursue their hobbies," Wiesley said. "We just don't want those weapons spread around campus in the residence halls or family housing."

All this week beginning Monday, college students from more than 110 campuses, including CU, plan to show up to classes wearing empty handgun holsters in protest of state laws and campus rules prohibiting the carrying of a concealed handgun on school grounds.

"Individuals who are licensed by their state to carry concealed handguns in places like movie theaters, office buildings, shopping malls and pretty much everywhere else should be afforded that same privilege on college campuses," said Scott Lewis, spokesman for Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, the national nonprofit group organizing the protest. "The practical point of the protest is to start a dialogue with people who may not be aware that concealed-carry laws exist, or that the laws are different on campus than they are elsewhere."

CU Regent Stephen Ludwig an Aurora Democrat who, during his campaign for office last year, was critical of an endorsement given by the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition to his Republican opponent, Brian Davidson defended CU's gun policy as being "wise."

"Allowing concealed permits on campus invites a lot of problems," Ludwig said. "I think when you mix young people who are experimenting with alcohol, living in tight quarters, and firearms I think that's a dangerous mix."