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Libraries look to Boulder for first-ever gun policy

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John Colson

Sopris Sun Correspondent

The idea of carrying guns into a public library may not be at the top of local readers’ list of things to do, but the possibilities underlying that idea will be on the agenda of the Garfield County Library board when it meets on Feb. 5 in Carbondale, according to the library district’s director, Amelia Shelley.

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According to Library Board of Directors at-large member Bill Lamont of Carbondale, the issue was discussed at a board meeting last week, and Shelley was directed to write up a proposed policy statement much like the one adopted by the Boulder Public Library Commission in 2012.

Prior to that adoption, the Boulder library prohibited the possession of guns in the library facilities except for library security officers and police.

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The library board in Boulder, according to an account in the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper, adopted a new policy that simply states, “No person may bring or possess a weapon, except as expressly permitted by state law.”

State law, Shelley told The Sopris Sun, does allow holders of concealed-carry permits to possess guns in many public places, including libraries.

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According to the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office, 2,619 concealed-carry permits have been issued in Garfield County since carrying concealed weapons became legal in Colorado in 2003. Of that number, 1,507 are active, 267 have expired and 792 are open for renewal, the sheriff’s office reported this week.

The Boulder library policy, according to the Daily Camera, was effected partly in recognition of a Colorado Supreme Court decision, also in 2012. The court ruled that the University of Colorado in Boulder could not prohibit concealed-carry permit holders from carrying guns on campus.

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The issue arose again last year when the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners organization threatened to sue the Clearview Library District in the city of Windsor, Colorado, over that district’s policy of barring guns in the library district’s facilities except when worn by law enforcement officials.

The matter came up, according to published accounts, when an armed library patron, carrying what was supposed to be a concealed pistol, was spotted by another patron, who complained.

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The gun-toting patron had a concealed-carry permit, but when asked to leave by the librarian, she did so.

The gun-rights group soon intervened, informing the librarian that state law allows people to carry concealed weapons in libraries, and demanding the policy be changed or the group would sue the district.

“Criminal safe zones are target-rich zones, leaving our children and loved ones vulnerable to those with malicious intent,” said RMGO Executive Director Dudley Brown. “A library should be a place where all freedom is recognized and supported, not just a place for freedom of speech.”

The Clearview Library District complied, sparking a round of debate on various web sites, including guns.com, which quoted RMGO’s social media page as declaring, “We encourage our members and supporters to continue to lawfully carry their firearms at libraries in the state, disregarding any unlawful policy prohibiting the right to carry concealed. We firmly believe library patrons, exercising their inalienable right to protect themselves, are not disruptive to the library environment.”

The debate has affected library districts around Colorado, including Garfield County.

“It’s pretty much that we don’t want to be challenged,” Lamont explained, adding that the new Garfield County library policy, being written by Shelley, will be much like the Boulder law, which allows concealed weapons in libraries but not openly carried guns.

“I think, in many ways, it’s ridiculous,” Lamont continued. “I understand people’s viewpoints, but I also understand we’re not talking militia,” referring to the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The rights ensured through the Second Amendment recently have been interpreted to include the right to carry guns for self-defense purposes in general, according to the website of the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University Law School.

Shelley, confirming that she is working on the wording of a new policy, noted, “It’s part of the culture of the West” but added, “We just don’t think it’s a big issue for us.”

Having guns in libraries, she clarified, is “not the climate we want to have for our patrons, [but] we want to be in compliance with state law,” explaining that the policy she is working on would allow patrons to bring in either concealed weapons or openly-carried weapons.

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