Young Colorado voters defend right to bear arms

Posted on Tuesday, November 6th, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Young Colorado voters defend right to bear arms from Pavement Pieces on Vimeo.

by Joann Pan and Alexa Mae Asperin
Pavement Pieces staff

FORT COLLINS, Co- After losing 32 friends in the Virginia Tech massacre, Ken and Alyson Stanton moved to Colorado for the right to bear arms on college campuses.

About 1,700 miles westward in the Centennial State, gun liberties are cherished. Shooting, like driving, is a way of life for the sprawling state’s hunters, military members, shooting sportsmen, storekeepers and homeowners. For students who regularly carry a personal weapon, it’s meant to be used in self-defense against an armed predator.

“We made the decision to move out here because Colorado State University allows concealed carry on campus,” said Alyson Stanton, 24, who is working toward her master’s degree at CSU. “For us, it’s a value that affects our entire lives.”

This year, the standout issues for American voters include taxes, the budget deficit, education, and healthcare, with economic recovery at the forefront.

Candidates did not mention gun control until October’s townhouse-style debate when an audience member asked President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney to address the aforementioned assault weapons ban in 2008. But the discussion of America’s gun policies has re-surfaced because of a string of high-profile mass shootings in recent months.

For Colorado residents who lost loved ones in the massacre at the Century Cinema in Aurora, the chatter surrounding gun rights and regulations is even more pertinent. On one side, residents want stricter laws to prevent future tragedies, whereas on the other, individuals still want the power to personally protect themselves if those situations arise.

“Without gun rights, none of the other rights really matter,” Ken Stanton, 35, originally from Rochester, NY, said. “It’s what allows us to defend ourselves from others.”

The Stantons were students at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University when gunman Seung-Hui Cho walked onto campus on April 16, 2007 and killed 32 people with two handguns that he purchased legally.

For the couple, the experience was a wake-up call. Before the shooting, Alyson Stanton, originally from Roanoke, VA, only saw guns in movies where villains shot at police officers and vice versa – “it was never a civilian,” she said.

A freshman at the time of the rampage, she was a few years shy of the legal gun-bearing age. To prepare, she went to the shooting range to learn everything about the safe handling of firearms and concealed carry before she bought her first handgun at age 21.

It was a similar experience for Ken Stanton, who describes his attitude toward guns prior to the shooting five years ago as “neutral.” He bought his first firearm one month after the incident.

“We saw our friends killed at Virginia Tech where they supposedly banned guns and it obviously didn’t stop the killer,” he said. “Versus the campus now where it is allowed and there have been zero problems.”

Students were allowed to carry concealed guns onto CSU facilities in 2003 when Colorado’s Concealed Carry Act was passed. Colorado is only one of about five states that have provisions “allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses,” according to an August 2012 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While 49 states issue concealed-carry permits to residents, nearly 21 states have banned concealed carry on college and university campuses. Virginia is one of 24 states that allow colleges and universities to decide gun policies individually.

Students with concealed-carry permits can bring guns onto the flat, sundrenched CSU campuses. Ken Stanton, who works as a research scientist in the school’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, believes safety is a personal responsibility.

On a campus with 30,000 other students, Ken Stanton doesn’t believe it’s feasible to rely on university police to monitor everyone.

“It really does come down to being prepared yourself,” he said. A gun-free zone won’t deter a criminal.

Seth Stern, 33, a former CSU student and war veteran who was deployed to Kuwait and Iraq, takes the right to protect himself seriously. During the four years he attended classes on CSU’s Fort Collins campus, he always carried a concealed gun and “nobody ever knew.”

“The reality for me is that my life is more important than obeying a campus policy or theater policy,” Stern, of Granby, Colo., said. “So, I would have carried in violation of policy without second thought.”

For Stern, self-protection is more important than following an institution’s rules. “If something had happened where it was required that I use [my gun], than I would have dealt with the consequences then,” he said.

Gun rights in this year’s election are a non-issue, Stern believes.

“For me, this election has very little to do with gun rights,” Stern said. “It has more to do with foreign policy and the direction of the country. In that, I don’t have a preference between the two candidates.”

Stern, however, will oppose any sort of national or statewide ban of assault weapons. During the second Presidential debate moderated by CNN’s Candy Crowley, both candidates expressed their belief in the Second Amendment. Obama, however, raised prospects of reintroducing the assault ban. Romney objected new gun laws and misspoke about automatic weapons being “already illegal in this country.” Media outlets pointed out new automatic weapons may be banned, but there are thousands of older machine guns owned legally.

Neither candidate talked about imposing more gun regulations. But gun-control advocates are continually pushing for a solution for violence.

On July 20th, alleged gunman James Eagan Holmes opened fire in an Aurora theater during the midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises,” killing 12 people.

Holmes, who was seen in court with fiery orange curly hair, was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and possession of explosives.

An AR-15 rifle, two handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun were recovered on the scene. Holmes bought his gear, arsenal and bullets online and in local stores.

“When [assault weapons] are involved in crimes, they are in a very big way and it makes national news – obviously Columbine and the Aurora shooting,” he said. “We’re no stranger to it in Colorado. The reality is it just isn’t going to have an effect on crime.”

The flaw in the pro-gun rights stance, Stern said, is the “hero” argument.

“We try and make this into a hero situation whereas if there had been someone with concealed carry there at the theater, they might have stopped the entire thing,” Stern said. “For me, it’s not about me saving everybody else.”

Area gun owners believe no state or national leader should try to take away their constitutional right to protect themselves. The majority of gun owners argue that a national ban on firearms won’t stop criminals. In addition, they say official regulations won’t make as much of a difference as education or proper gun training.

“A regulation isn’t going to capture that – at the same time there are people at 35 who have never touched a gun before and therefore they need to be – go through training,” said Ken, who regularly practices shooting, safe handling, and mentally prepares for emergencies. “A regulation can only do so much.”

How to Buy A Gun and Obtain a Concealed Weapon Permit in Colorado

To buy a gun or obtain a concealed-weapon permit, a person needs to go through various background checks and human filters before picking up a revolver, pistol, shotgun, rifle or other firearm of choice from a store.

Tim Brough, 51, of Brighton, Colo., who has operated Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply in Fort Collins for the past 20 years, said many of the state’s gun shops are privately owned by former law-enforcement officials.
Brough also said that gun shop owners tend to be experienced human screeners and won’t sell a gun to anyone who looks anxious, angry or raises a red flag.

The official process goes like this: applicants need to fill out a 1- to 2-page questionnaire, which is sent to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation – each person gets a background check through the federal and state systems.

The process takes around ten minutes to an hour for officials to go through the information and view the applicant’s criminal background before confirming or denying a permit, according to Brough.

“The bulk of gun owners are responsible and safe,” he said.

The retailers at his store use their personal judgment every time.

“I suggest those interested in guns go through a class before I sell a gun to them,” he added.

A basic course runs around $125. The general class includes an introduction to different types of firearms, gun safety, proper mounting, handling, and gun cleaning, plus time to shoot in an indoor range. Brough said a typical gun purchase of a general handgun or sporting rifle will cost about $450.

Concealed-carry guidelines state gun owners must have no civil and criminal restraining orders and no history of alcohol abuse. They must be legal residents of Colorado and at least 21 years old.

Patrons also must understand the restrictions.

Concealed weapons are restricted in areas prohibited by federal law such as courthouses, public schools K-12 (unless the firearm is left in a container inside a locked automobile) and public buildings that prohibit firearms and require entrants to surrender them to security before entering. On campuses, permit holders are allowed to bring handguns including pistols, revolvers or small firearms with non-detachable barrels.

For young gun owners who also have concealed-carry permits, self-defense is a serious priority.

“By and large, people that go through the process of getting a conceal carry permit, they are truly the ones that want do it for the safety measures and they want to get more training so that they know they’re proficient with the firearm,” Ken Stanton said.

Stern, who was a full-time firearms instructor with the U.S. Air Force and member of the non-profit organization Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Colorado’s largest state-based gun lobby that is dedicated to protecting the Second Amendment, believes it takes more than just the required introduction class to “carry competently.”

He recognizes that the general public does not possess the same abilities he does with a firearm, but said there are also “disparities between the private citizens who are going out and training themselves to carry competently.”

Self-defense takes more than owning a firearm, owners believe. There should be regular target shooting, plus mental preparation.

“It’s something you kind of have to go through in your mind, or otherwise you’ll have shock,” Alyson Stanton said. “Practice is really about muscle memory, it’s about training your body how to handle that because you’re not going to be thinking about it. The reality is the stress is what’s going to be dominating your mind.”

After the shooting at Virginia Tech, students said they initially attributed the loud pops from the bullets fired from on-campus construction, she said as an example.

For the young Coloradoans, having a gun means self-protection when the unforeseen occurs.

Atmosphere on a Concealed-Carry Campus

While gun control and gun regulation issues in the swing state may not be an important issue for this year’s presidential candidates, for CSU Fort Collins senior Kristen Jenkins, 22, the issue hits close to home.

“I grew up ten minutes away from Columbine and I knew people there, it’s scary that something like that can happen,” said Jenkins, of Littleton, Colo. “I don’t know if it’s necessarily restricting guns, but I feel like we could have more protection for students that’s more proactive.”

Colorado’s affinity for hunting and shooting is something Jenkins believes contributes to the split opinions regarding gun control.

“We are in the ‘Wild West,’ and people like to hunt and go do that recreationally, but also being a state where we had the Aurora theater shooting and Columbine, it’s a really divided topic,” Jenkins, a communications major, said. “People want to feel safe and protected but they also want to be able to enjoy their hobbies and go deer hunting on the weekend.”

Jenkins believes that “more proactive” measures include more police officers on campus, a better response system, and metal detectors. She added that she feels less safe on campus with the concealed-carry law, saying the process of obtaining guns is “too easy” and that it is especially difficult to control what people buy and possess in America.

“Knowing that those weapons are there and that people do have the opportunity and that option kind of scares me just because they can make that decision and have that power,” she said. “Whereas because I don’t have a gun, I don’t have that power.”

For other students on campus, including Alex Hall, 20, from Aurora, concealed carry on campus isn’t an issue. Despite having lost friends in July’s theater shooting, Hall said: “If they feel like it makes them feel safe – carrying it – then you know by all means let them have it.”

Some students like Ema Hatsion, 19, didn’t know about the concealed- carry permits on campus but said, “I have no problem with it as long as it doesn’t affect me personally, I mean if people want to carry weapons for safety, I feel that they should have the right to.”

Having that right to bear arms is something that gun advocates like Stern and the Stantons agree is the heart of the matter.

“It’s a personal choice,” Ken Stanton said. “Nobody’s handing out guns. It’s just the people who want the choice, who want to be able to do it – they should have the choice.”