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Pistol-Packing Workers Rile Some Residents

Larimer County, Colo., considers allowing its employees to bring guns to the office if they have permits. Proposal's foes are up in arms.

January 26, 2003|From Associated Press

WELLINGTON, Colo. — Wearing flip-flops to work at Larimer County's food stamp office is prohibited. Bringing a gun to work is not.

Commissioners in this northern Colorado county are working to clarify their stance on guns in the workplace with a written policy after two employees were spotted with handguns.

Under the proposal, all 1,300 county employees -- from janitors to the county manager -- would be permitted to carry concealed weapons if they have permits and inform their supervisors in advance. It would not apply to courts, which are governed by state laws prohibiting guns in courthouses.

If the proposal is approved, Larimer would become the first county in the nation with a written concealed weapons policy, according to the Washington, D.C.-based National Assn. of Counties.

A representative of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence said a county that allows employees to bring guns to work is unheard of because most prohibit guns in public buildings.

Many Larimer County residents are upset with the plan.

"I don't want to be in a building with a bunch of cowboys," retired Fort Collins high school teacher Fred Schmidt said. "Let's take this to its logical conclusion. What if they get into a gunfight? They could cause more damage than good because they're not trained like police officers."

Carpenter Ben Stein, 42, of Fort Collins said: "Walking into a public building and knowing that the person you're dealing with is armed is frightening to me. It doesn't create a pleasant environment."

Commission Chairman Tom Bender called the proposed policy reasonable. Commissioner Glenn Gibson said he believes that guns should be allowed only in certain circumstances, such a person who was being stalked. The third commissioner, Kathay Rennels, did not return a phone call seeking comment. The commission's next meeting is Tuesday. Located about 50 miles north of Denver, the county encompasses Fort Collins, home to Colorado State University and Rocky Mountain National Park. It is a growing urban region that is home to several high-tech firms and an Anheuser-Busch brewery.

Gun-rights issues caught the public's attention in 1999 when newly elected Sheriff Jim Alderden loosened restrictions on issuing concealed weapons permits.

When he took office, there were four concealed-weapons permits in the county. As of last week, there were 2,273. Those who apply for such a permit must undergo firearms training and a background check.

The proposed written policy began taking shape last year after a handgun slipped out of a human services employee's holster and clanked down a stairwell. Later, a co-worker opened her purse, which contained a handgun.

The department then proposed a policy banning guns for workers other than law enforcement personnel. County Manager Frank Lancaster drafted a countywide ban meant to close the loophole.

"We had never thought about it," Lancaster said. "Even though I feel like I kicked over a can of worms, we were going to have to deal with it at some point."

Alderden led the fight to change that policy to allow concealed weapons, arguing that state law allows the public to carry weapons so the county should too.

"To me, that made a second-class citizen of employees," Alderden said. "What the county was looking at doing was keeping employees from being able to defend themselves."

Rob Wilcox of the Brady Campaign said guns in the workplace would more likely be used in a suicide or accidental shooting rather than to stop an intruder.

Human Resources Director Ralph Jacobs said the county needs a written policy. For example, he noted that the Child Support and Family Assistance Program, which administers Medicaid and food stamps, has a dress code that prohibits flip-flops and sweatpants for men, and sets skirt-length requirements.

"Would somebody walking into, let's say, a driver's license office with a gun strapped to their side be disruptive?" Jacobs asked.

"You could make that argument, but we need to deal with this issue directly."

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