Aspen Council unanimously passes ordinance to ban guns in city buildings

Despite outcry by gun owners and hours of sometimes heated debate, Aspen City Council on Tuesday passed a ban on deadly weapons in municipal government buildings.

The new law, which goes into effect in 30 days, prohibits possession of deadly weapons in city buildings unless individuals are peace officers or have permits to carry concealed firearms.

Council unanimously passed the ban in response to growing concerns of increasing gun violence and the safety of the public and city staff in government buildings.

Councilwoman Ann Mullins said it is the job of elected officials to protect the public and employees in city buildings.

“More guns doesn’t mean safer,” she said. “It becomes an emotional issue for me. … I don’t want a bunch of guns in the building.”

City Manager Sara Ott and City Attorney Jim True brought forward the ordinance.

“These acts of violence contribute to increased personal safety concerns for visitors, guests and employees,” reads a memo to council from them. “City-owned buildings should be considered safe, available, and open for constructive public discourse. … The lack of weapons contributes to the sense of safety of visitors, guests and employees.”

The prohibition didn’t sit well with Second Amendment advocates who spoke with force on Tuesday during council’s regular meeting.

“You are asking me to conceal my right to bear arms,” Rifle resident Lauren Boebert said. “My rights do not end where your fears begin.”

Aspen resident Steve Berk said he’s fearful that prohibition won’t stop at the roughly 25 city properties where the law could be applied, and soon it will be parks and the mall.

“The next and the next and the next,” he told council. “Give an inch and take a mile.”

Garfield County resident Sherronna Bishop said countless incidents with bears occur in Aspen and on city property, and that is just one reason to bear arms.

“Any citizen should always have the right to protect themselves against wildlife,” she said, adding disarming citizens is not the answer. “A good guy with a gun will always stop a bad guy with a gun.”

Outside of the new law, city employees are not allowed to carry weapons or firearms while in municipal government buildings.

Tracy Terry, administrative assistant in the City Clerk’s Office who works in the front office at the entrance to City Hall, told council she doesn’t feel safe at work at times.

She said doesn’t agree with the city policy about employees not being able to carrying weapons, or the public prohibition.

“I just don’t think this actually makes us safer,” she said. “I wonder why we need this at all.”

The law is a symbolic gesture because city officials do not plan to install metal detectors or security personnel to know whether people are carrying guns into buildings.

Aspen resident Phyllis Bronson said after listening to the gun advocates, particularly four women wearing guns on their hips in front of her in council chambers, she isn’t convinced.

“I feel like an alien in my town,” she said, adding guns have no place in a peaceful society like Aspen. “I don’t think this ordinance goes far enough. … If you are going to do it, don’t do it half-assed.”

The city pays for a police officer to be present during regular council meetings, which are held the first and third Tuesdays of the month.

Linda Manning, who spoke in front of council as an Aspen resident and not in her capacity as city clerk, said she feels safer carrying her gun.

“For the past several months there have been members of the public coming in and threatening violence,” she said. “While none of it has been personally directed at me, it makes me uncomfortable to be in a room where there is the potential for something bad to happen and not be able to do anything about it.

“Tonight is the first night in a very long time I’ve felt safe in this room,” she told council. “Yes, there is a police officer here, but I also have friends here who are armed and so am I.”

Aspen joins Boulder, Aurora and Denver in banning deadly weapons in municipal office buildings.

The definition of a deadly weapon includes not only firearms but also a “knife, bludgeon, or any other weapon, device, instrument, material, or 189 substance, whether animate or inanimate, that, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.”

The crime will be punishable by up to a $2,650 fine and up to one year in jail.