Castle Rock special election tackles future of town's gun laws
• Voting: Castle Rock residents can register up to and on the day of the special election, Aug. 19. If you do not register before Aug.12 you will not receive a ballot by mail and will need to go to either Castle Rock Town Hall or the Douglas County Elections Office to register. Completed ballots can be returned by mail or in person to Town Hall, 100 N. Wilcox St., Castle Rock, or in person to the Douglas County Elections Office, 125 Stephanie Place, Castle Rock. Both locations will accept ballots between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily, except on Aug. 19, when they will be open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. To see if you are registered to vote, go to govotecolorado.com
• What is open carry? Open carry is when a gun owner openly carries a firearm in public. This is different than concealed carry, where a gun owner carries a weapon that is not visible to the public. Individuals who have a concealed-weapons permit have undergone a background check and have had firearms training. There are no training requirements for those who open carry, only that they be of legal age and own the weapon legally.
Under the current town ordinance, the town manager has the power to make decisions on whether the open carry of firearms is permitted or prohibited in town-owned and -run buildings and spaces, like parks. Private businesses can also choose to ban open carry from the premises.
Voters in Castle Rock this month have the chance to weigh in on two ballot questions that will help shape the future of the town's gun laws.
The first is a question relating to whether or not the town manager has the authority to ban open carry in town-owned and -run buildings, facilities and parks. Open carry is currently outlawed in those locations, in accordance to the town manager.
If voters vote yes on ballot question A, the town manager will no longer have authority on the issue and Colorado state law will kick in, allowing for open carry on said property. A no vote leaves the power of whether open carry is allowed on town-owned property with the town manager.
The other question is a potential amendment to the Castle Rock charter that would require a town vote to alter gun laws in the future.
Under the current ordinance, passed in 2003, the town manager has the power to make decisions on where the open carry of firearms is permitted or prohibited.
In 2013, the town council revisited the issue, exploring whether it would be best to transfer the power to make the decision from the town manager to themselves.
Then, after more research and discussion, council considered an ordinance that would repeal the restriction of open carry in town-owned and -run facilities altogether. That ordinance passed 4-3 on Jan. 28 on second reading.
Case against open carry
Almost as soon as the issue of possibly allowing the open carry of firearms in town facilities came up, some in Castle Rock began to speak out against it.
The repeal was set to go into effect Feb. 28, but a collection of 2,657 signatures on a referendum presented to town council Feb. 26 forced a delay.
As a result of the referendum, on April 14, the council voted to hold a special election on the issue. The town's estimated cost for the election, scheduled for Aug. 19, will be about $50,000.
Ballot Question A specifically asks whether the town manager's power to prohibit open carry on town property should be revoked.
In addition to the open-carry question, council voted to add a charter amendment question to the ballot that would potentially require a town vote to change gun laws in the future. A "yes" vote on Ballot Question B means "the voters must approve future action by the Town Council restricting the right to keep and bear firearms." A "no" vote means voter approval is not needed.
The complete ballot language can be found at crgov.com/specialelection.
Castle Rock resident Ziggy Guentensberger and his neighbor Jacob Varnish were part of the group that started the referendum process aimed at allowing town residents to vote on the issue.
"We were getting phone calls and emails from people who wanted to help out and get signatures," Guentensberger said. "We realized this is something that the people want to make a decision on and want to be involved in. It quickly grew from there."
Some have asked why the vote on this issue couldn't have been held in November.
According to the town charter, the deadline for a special election is 120 days after the decision is made to hold the election. Possible dates considered were Aug. 12, 19 and 26.
Guentensberger said the tight deadline to decide the issue could have been avoided.
"(Council) could have rescinded (their decision) and tackled it this November," he said. "They could have tackled it next November. They could have tackled it in an April election."
Castle Rock Mayor Paul Donahue said that while council could have rescinded the ordinance changing the law, the volume of support for action shown during the referendum process convinced council that the best thing to do was allow the people of the town to vote.
"We could have done that, but we felt that it was important to follow through with the referendum and allow all of the people who signed the petition, along with the rest of Castle Rock, to decide," Donahue said.
Guentensberger said that for many, the opposition to the ordinance passed by council in January is not about the Second Amendment. The problem, in their view, was in the process.
"Some people feel that it's just not responsible to have guns," he said. "Some people feel that open carry is a little bit too extreme for our town. I think we all have a view that open carry in some areas is not a responsible action. But if you boil it down, I think the process is what got us all enraged and all involved."
Case for open carry
Many people who have spoken in favor of repealing the open-carry ban point to the need to protect the Second Amendment, and say that it is their constitutional right to openly carry a firearm.
Others say that, in reality, very few, if any, people actually do openly carry guns, and that if it were permitted, it would do little to affect the day-to-day lives of most people living in Castle Rock.
"Just because a citizen of Colorado does not exercise a constitutional right does not mean that politicians should have the ability to restrict that right," Donahue said.
Donahue said that while opponents want to frame the Aug.19 special election as simply being about the open carry of firearms, the election is actually about who the citizens of Castle Rock want to have the authority over their rights.
"This isn't about open carry. It's all about who do the people of Castle Rock want to have the power to grant or prohibit their constitutional rights," Donahue said.
Donahue points out that even if the town votes "no" on Ballot Measure A, the question about open carry, the issue is not settled, and the power to decide would simply fall back into the hands of the town manager, Mark Stevens.
"This is question about the future," Donahue said. "Mark Stevens, our longtime town manager, has said that he could retire next year. What happens when a new town manager or a new council come in down the road? Who do we want making these decisions, council or the people of the town?"
The mayor said that Ballot Measure B, which would require a town vote to change gun laws in the future, is an opportunity for the people of Castle Rock to ensure that their future is in their own hands.
"I say let's not put the power to make decisions about our constitutional rights on one individual or a small group of individuals. This is a chance to decide who has the power to make these decisions once and for all, and I think that it should be the people of the town," he said.