“I’m against most of what they are trying to do.”
OURAY COUNTY – As debate roiled at the state capitol earlier this week on the issue of gun control, Ouray County Sheriff Dominic “Junior” Mattivi sought to illustrate why he is against a proposed ban on semiautomatic so-called assault rifles. In his office at the Ouray County Courthouse, he assembled four different rifles on a table.
“What we have here is a .22, a shotgun, an AR-15, and this here is a Ruger ranch rifle. Which of these four is the assault rifle?” he asked.
The obvious choice seemed to be the third in line, a sleek Bushmaster AR-15 with a collapsible stock and pistol grip and a detachable magazine that could hold up to 15 rounds.
“Wrong,” Mattivi said. The Bushmaster was identical in fire power to the last weapon in line-up, the more rudimentary-looking ranch rifle.
“They shoot the same round and capacity. Both are semi-automatics,” Mattivi explained. But under the proposed new regulations that will almost certainly be adopted by the Democratic-controlled state legislature later this session, the former weapon would be banned, while the latter would not.
Moreover, Mattivi argued, it was second weapon in the line-up, a Mossburg shotgun, that would deliver the most lethal wallop for a killer who wanted to wreak random devastation, since each time it was cocked and shot, it would spray out nine pellets, each equivalent to a .38 caliber bullet. Such hunting rifles are not part of the current gun control debate.
It’s a point of view that Mattivi articulated to the Chief Ouray Gun Club when he was invited to speak to that group on the matter of gun control legislation in January.
Among the most notable statements he made to that group:
“Magazine size limits are ludicrous,” and “I am sworn to uphold the Constitution and if I am asked to collect guns, I will not do it.”
According to minutes from the meeting which were posted on the Ouray County Republican Central Committee’s web site, Mattivi also stated to gun club members that many of the executive orders on gun control were unconstitutional, and that he would sign his name to a list of over 50 sheriffs across the country (four of whom are from Colorado) who have “pledged their refusal to confiscate guns and/or uphold any new gun control laws.”
The list, maintained by the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, so far does not contain Mattivi’s name, although Montrose County Sheriff Rick Dunlap (a Constitutionalist who has gone on the record in support of the Second Amendment) is among those who have signed it.
In an interview with The Watch this week, Mattivi said he would not be adding his name to the CSPOA list, but firmly reiterated his opposition to many of the gun control measures currently being proposed at the federal and state level.
“I’m against most of what they are trying to do,” he said. “I have no problem with background checks or the mental health provisions” – although he wonders who will conduct and pay for them – “but I have problems with lawmakers saying that people ‘can’t have this kind of gun.’ My problem is that they haven’t defined what an assault rifle is.”
Many Second Amendment supporters worry that the outcome of current gun control debates will be that law enforcement officials will be sent out to confiscate their guns.
“My gut feeling is that’s not going to happen,” Mattivi said. But if it were to come to that, he asserted, it would be crazy to send his officers out on such a suicide mission. “Some people love their dogs and guns more than their wife.”
Speaking on the issue of magazine size limits, Mattivi reiterated his view that this effort would be absurd because “there will always be ways around it” by simply taping several magazines together, for example.
Beyond his own personal convictions, Mattivi said that his department has been feeling a ripple effect from December’s Sandy Hook school shooting that has expressed itself in several ways. For one thing, ammunition has become expensive and scarce, as gun owners buy up whatever supply is out there, fearing that it may not be available in the future.
“People are stocking up, hoarding it,” he said. “We are having a hard time getting ammo and once we get it, it will cost an arm and a leg. Some ammo rounds you can’t find at all.”
The sheriff’s department has also been processing a surge of new applications for concealed handgun permits – up to two or three per day in the weeks following the Sandy Hook massacre.
Currently, Mattivi said, there are over 300 concealed handgun permits in the county. His department is responsible for maintaining a database tracking all of these permits. He also has the option of sharing this information with a national data bank – an option which he said he eschews as a matter of principle.
“A lot of sheriffs do, and a lot don’t,” he said. “Those that don’t feel that it is an infringement on your privacy.”
While he has both feet firmly planted in the camp of Second Amendment supporters, Mattivi said he understands the concerns of those who are working to push through gun control measures.
“I’m pro-gun, but could jump the fence and argue the matter either way,” he said. Still, he maintained, echoing a familiar refrain of gun rights advocates, the problem is not the guns. “A gun is an inanimate object. There has got to be somebody behind the gun. There are millions of guns, and a handful of irresponsible people.”
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“I’m against most of what they are trying to do.”