BY FREDA MIKLIN – GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER
On April 27, Arapahoe County Clerk Joan Lopez and Cheryl Ternes, the county’s human services director, appeared in front of the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) to speak about potential security enhancements at county facilities. Arapahoe County Attorney Ron Carl explained that the impetus for the meeting was a request by Lopez to ban the open carry of firearms at County Clerk’s offices, as well as Ternes’ concerns about guns being brought into human services’ building.
In the report prepared for the BOCC in advance of the meeting, Carl and John Christofferson, deputy county attorney, noted that many Arapahoe County local governments already prohibit the open carry of firearms in some or all of their buildings, including the cities of Aurora, Greenwood Village, Centennial, Englewood, Littleton, and Sheridan.
Lopez told the BOCC, “I’m here because of the recent events in Colorado and across the country with active shooters. Last year, a man who was open carrying, came to our Littleton building with his son and proceeded to stand in front of our entrance with no reason at all but to intimate customers… My staff have expressed concerns and I…saw the fear in my employees’ eyes when this happened. I have real safety concerns for my staff, customers, and the safety of our commissioners when they are in an open public meeting. It is important to have a safe environment for all of us.”
Karl Herman, Lopez’ chief deputy added, “This request to ban open carry is supported by (Arapahoe County) Sheriff (Tyler) Brown, (Arapahoe County) Assessor (P.K.) Kaiser, as well as many Arapahoe County employees and customers that we’ve interacted with.” Herman emphasized that the ban being requested was limited to open carry of firearms and did not extend to concealed carry. He noted that while Arapahoe County does not, other front range counties, including Douglas, Denver, Jefferson, Broomfield. Adams, and Boulder Counties, already ban open carry.
Commissioner Jeff Baker noted that, of the man who stood at the entrance to the Clerk’s Office while carrying a gun was not breaking the law, pointing out that there are laws on the books against “using a weapon in a way that could be threatening, could be menacing.” He added, “The only motor vehicle office in my district (commissioner district three) is in a bank building in Byers…and if the bank doesn’t ban open carry, then our motor vehicle office should follow suit.”
After Lopez said she didn’t know the bank’s policy, Herman pointed out that, “People…have the ability to choose a bank. They would not have the opportunity to choose which motor vehicle office and in which county they would like to be serviced.”
When Commissioner Bill Holen asked Lopez whether her “employees are the ones that expressed concern about…people coming in with open carry,” Lopez responded, “Yes, especially in the Aurora office.” She noted having received a “pretty scary email” about the potential of an active shooter from the branch manager in Aurora, because the only method of egress presently for employees working behind the counter in that office, in the event of an emergency, is through the front door.
Commissioner Nancy Sharpe said, “I understand the open carry being visible, but why is that more scary than concealed carry? Someone with concealed carry could just as easily pull their weapon out and fire it…Why are you only focusing on open carry?” Herman responded, “The difference…is optics…In one instance, (open carry), there is an intimidation factor…We’re not talking about concealed carry…(because) we are…fighting a lot of financial constraints and there are a lot of additional costs associated with going to a concealed carry setup…. (Banning) open carry…is little to no cost…You print out a sign, you distribute it to the buildings, and then you message the policy out…This is a zero-cost additional (safety) enhancement that we could do.” Comparing concealed carry to open carry, Herman said, “I can’t think about the (gun) that I don’t see. I can only think about the one that I see.”
Sharpe pointed out that it was important for the BOCC to determine what steps would need to be taken and resources allocated to avert or respond to a potential conflict that might arise if open carry is banned and a person nevertheless enters the building with a weapon.
Cheryl Ternes told the BOCC that her staff was concerned about the parenting time area of the human services department, where parents who are only permitted to have supervised visits with their children who are in foster care, visit with their children. The employees in that department would like to see a sign put up saying that weapons were prohibited there.
After more discussion, Baker asked BOCC Chair Nancy Jackson, “You said that when you see guns, you see them as a tool to kill. Does that apply when you see them on a police officer?” Jackson responded, “Yes, that’s what it’s there for—to intimidate or possibly shoot somebody.” Baker said, “As a former law enforcement officer, when I carried a weapon, it was to protect the public.” And so it went.
Later, Baker said, “I’m not opposed to this, because I do think employees need to be comfortable and safe… in the workplace…(as well as) our customers… But I do believe it is a mindset. The way I look at people open carrying is, if they had ill intent, they wouldn’t be open carrying it, they’d be hiding it…I sometimes look at people that are open carrying and say, wow, I’m safe…but I do think this is worth considering and worth discussing. I’ve got an open mind…I just think that sometimes it’s overkill…We step over the line to abrogating certain people’s rights.”
The discussion closed with Chair Jackson concluding that the BOCC needed more information in order to make a decision on Lopez’ and Ternes’ requests. Commissioners Warren-Gully and Holen asked that the needed information be obtained by county staff expeditiously so that the decision could be made soon.