Federally licensed gun dealers in Routt County wary of doing background checks for private sales | SteamboatToday.com

Federally licensed gun dealers in Routt County wary of doing background checks for private sales

— One of the most immediate impacts Colorado's new gun laws could have on gun owners in Routt County come July could be the difficulty private parties will experience in finding dealers with federal firearms licenses, or FFLs, who are willing to stick their own necks out to conduct the newly required universal background checks on transactions between two private individuals.

More than 130 people who showed up at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Monday night to listen as Routt County Sheriff Garrett Wiggins discussed the implications of Colorado's new gun laws heard two local gun shop owners say they don't want to have anything to do with facilitating the newly mandated background checks for sales they are not directly involved in.

"There is no reason I can think of why I should run one," said Ken Constantine, of Elk River Guns in Steamboat and an FFL. "Due to legal implications, private sales put the FFL at risk from a liability standpoint. I have no way to confirm the seller is the actual owner of the gun."

“At present, Colorado law does not place restrictions on private parties purchasing a used gun from another individual," Dan Miller, of Firearms Exchange in Stagecoach, told the gathering.

At the same time, to walk into his shop and purchase a new gun requires the purchaser and FFLs like himself to fill out a six-page form that takes more than an hour to process. And while the law does not say that FFLs are compelled to do the work, it limits the fee they can charge to $10, while nationally, shops charge $25 to $75 for that service.

"Insurance companies have told me, 'You have to be crazy to have anything to do with a transfer,’" Miller said. "If you want to purchase a gun (from a private owner) after July 1, you might want to consult with your attorney first, but don't call me."

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The reluctance among federally licensed gun sellers to take on responsibility for carrying out the mandatory background checks for private sales might not be limited to Routt County.

Elbert County Sheriff Shayne Heap, who was in the audience, was asked whether FFLs in his jurisdiction were willing to take on the new role, and he simply replied, "They're not going to do it."

Asked by one man in the audience: "If I want to transfer (ownership) of a gun privately, what can I do?" Constantine confirmed that the only people in Colorado allowed to enter purchaser data into state and federal forms are FFLs. But Miller, a former longtime law enforcement officer and criminal investigator, said another law enforcement agent, who was not present in the room Monday night, suggested to him that two Northwest Colorado residents who wanted to consummate a gun sale might simply plan to have lunch together in nearby Baggs, Wyo.

"Or, online auction sites based in other states are an avenue you could pursue," Miller said. "You have to have the gun shipped to another FFL at the point of delivery, and that FFL has to go through their state's system, and they can facilitate the transaction at that point in time."

Wiggins began the public forum by asking members of the audience to show respect for people with views differing from their own, and he also asked them to refrain from discussing constitutional issues.

"The purpose of this meeting is twofold, to inform citizens of new laws and how they will affect you as a gun owners, or not as gun owners," Wiggins said. "This meeting will not be allowed to turn into a gripe session."

Another new gun law going into effect July 1 would prevent people from purchasing new magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds, though previously purchased larger magazines would be grandfathered into compliance.

Wiggins has said he thinks that short of setting up a sting operation, it virtually would be impossible for his deputies to enforce the law because the large majority of existing magazines are not date stamped.

Wiggins concluded the meeting by saying he is convinced that at least on the local level, the shared goal of reducing gun violence, and in particular mass shootings such as those in Aurora and at Sandy Hook Elementary School, are not political in nature. And he thinks people with varying stances on gun control must work together to curb gun violence.

"This violence issue we have in our country is not just about guns, it's not just about gangs, it's not just about mental health issues There are probably eight or 10 subjects that tie into the problems we have in our country."

Still, he said, in his view, there needs to be increased attention paid to mental health issues as they relate to mass shootings. Also, he said, policies that allow early release of prisoners who are not prepared to re-enter society need to be looked at.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com