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Gun rules could change for Colorado Springs guards

December 15, 2007|DeeDee Correll | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — In Colorado Springs, where a troubled young man brought an assault rifle, two semiautomatic handguns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition to a church, security guards aren't allowed to carry anything more powerful than a revolver.

That could change early next year, when the city will consider a proposal to permit licensed security officers to carry semiautomatic weapons.

The proposed change doesn't come in response to Sunday's attack at New Life Church, where Matthew Murray, 24, shot five people before a volunteer guard stopped him with several shots. But some say the situation underscores the need for security officers to be as well-prepared as the criminals they may face.

"It's just a common-sense issue. Do you want an old, outdated six-shooter up against a machine gun?" said John Pepe of Cheyenne Mountain Security, a private firm in Colorado Springs.

The existing ordinance dates back to the early 1980s, City Clerk Kathryn Young said. Though the ordinance itself does not specify what types of weapons a guard may carry, an attached policy spells out that guards may carry revolvers capable of holding as many as eight rounds of ammunition. The allowed revolvers, which can have 4- or 6-inch barrels, include .38s, .38 Specials and .357 magnums.

Young said that she wasn't sure why city officials originally created the restriction, but that it wasn't common for people to carry semiautomatics then.

The regulation applies only to those who work as paid contract security officers, city spokeswoman Sue Skiffington-Blumberg said.

She said the restriction on semiautomatic weapons did apply to volunteers such as Jeanne Assam, who was working at New Life Church during Sunday's assault.

Assam returned fire with a Beretta 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, hitting Murray several times before he shot himself in the head.

A coalition of security firms has urged the city to change its position for a long time, Young said. About eight months ago, city officials began examining the policy, and they intend to propose changes in January.

Young said other Colorado cities had a variety of policies on the issue, with some restricting guards to revolvers and others allowing semiautomatic weapons.

The biggest disadvantage of a revolver is that it holds only five to seven rounds, whereas a semiautomatic can hold as many as 15, Pepe said. "If you're in a line of fire, you want the best weapon possible," he said.

Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which favors tighter firearms controls, said he saw the logic in allowing security officers to have the same firepower as a potential assailant. "We allow ordinary citizens to carry these things around. Why we do that, I don't know. But if we're going to allow that, we're probably forcing the hand of security guards to do the same," he said.

The real solution, he said, is for Congress to enact a new ban on assault weapons. "Then we wouldn't have to have an arms race going," he said.

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