With November elections looming, BOCC bans concealed handguns at polling places, elsewhere
Whether in open view or concealed from plain sight, handguns are now banned within 100 feet of ballot boxes, voting booths and other places in Pitkin County.
County commissioners Wednesday adopted an ordinance that temporarily outlaws concealed handguns within 100 feet of polling places, as well as the Pitkin County Administration and Sheriff’s Office Building.
The 5-0 decision came after Gov. Jared Polis signed into law on March 30 the Vote Without Fear Act banning the open carry of firearms within 100 feet of polling places and election centers.
It’s legislation that took effect ahead of June primaries and November midterm elections. The new law drew no support from Republican lawmakers.
While the state law applies to firearms, the county law bans solely handguns. The county modeled its ordinance in part from Colorado law that allows local government to enact legislation prohibiting concealed handguns in buildings that are under the local jurisdiction.
“I would like it to be all weapons that are not allowed within the administration building and the sheriff’s building and the voting centers, rather than just concealed handguns,” said Commissioner Francie Jacober, adding the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t allow outsiders with weapons of any type.
Because commissioners approved the ordinance on first reading June 21, they could not amend it ahead of their confirmation vote, said county attorney John Ely.
“My recommendation is to confirm this ordinance so that it remains in place and to discuss further limitations,” he told commissioners, earlier noting “the only action that we can take on this … ordinance is either to confirm it or not to confirm it.”
Banning weapons altogether poses challenges, Ely said.
“The broad term ‘weapon’ is a is a difficult term to focus on,” he said. “Almost anything can be weaponized, so that’s why it’s a difficult term to include in a prohibition, and a prohibition that we establish under the law must be clear and not vague to the public, so that someone would clearly know when and when not they are violating the law.”
A future BOCC work session, Ely said, could be held “to have a further discussion about not only weapons, but any other type of restrictions that the board is interested in pursuing.”
Restrictions considered could include the sale of fully automatic weapons, military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
“I’d support this to come back,” Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said. “After we talked about this, I’ve noticed (Roaring Fork Transportation Authority) has a prohibition on weapons as does the city on their properties as well, so this actually might make things more consistent.”
The county’s temporary ban on concealed weapons at polling places and the county headquarters and sheriff’s building is the result of increased concern about safety at polling places.
On Jan. 26, the Justice Department said it was looking into more than 850 reported threats against election officials.
As well, the Pitkin County Administration and Sheriff’s Office Building was placed on lockdown for two days in April 2021 after officials received threatening emails. Though the incident did not appear to be politically or election related, a sheriff’s spokesman said at the time that in “today’s climate, with everything going on in our society, we are not going to downplay this. We take these threats seriously.”
The BOCC’s emergency ordinance said in part the board “believes that the conduct of fair and open elections should be absent any threats or intimidation to the electorate” and that the “BOCC intends to protect its staff, volunteers and the community and the BOCC intends to maintain facilities that are safe and free of violence.”
First-time violators face a fine of $50 and up to $1,000 for subsequent infractions. Violators who refuse to leave the premises faces jail time of up to six months, according to the ordinance.
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.