Open-carry law under scrutiny after Colorado Springs rampage

A gunman killed three Saturday, sparking controversy over police response to a report of the shooter walking around with his gun.

Brennan Linsley/AP/File
Gun dealer Mel Bernstein takes down an AK-47 assault rifle from a sales rack at his own Dragonman's shooting range and gun store, east of Colorado Springs, Colo., Feb. 5, 2013.

Colorado’s gun laws have come under scrutiny following a rampage shooting on Halloween.

Three people were killed in broad daylight on Saturday in Colorado Springs, when gunman Noah Harpham walked down the street shooting bicyclist and Army veteran Andrew Meyers, and two women, Jennifer Vasquez and Christina Baccus-Gallela, who were sitting out on the porch of their sober living home.

Police do not believe the victims knew their killer, but have not commented “whether there was any link between [Mr. Harpham’s] substance abuse problems and the fact that two of his victims were themselves recovering from addiction,” wrote the Associated Press.

Harpham was killed in a shootout with police who responded to the scene. But Harpham’s neighbor, Naomi Bettis, says police didn’t respond soon enough. Ms. Bettis called 911, alerting law enforcement that her neighbor was walking down the street with a rifle, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. But the dispatcher reminded Bettis of Colorado law.

"I didn't like the first dispatcher," Bettis told the Gazette. "Because she says 'You know in Colorado, they do have an open/concealed weapon' " law.

While local police maintain the call was immediately entered into the dispatch system, police did not arrive until Bettis called again after witnessing the shooting of Mr. Meyers.

"The call taker did not deviate from policy therefore there is no need to put her on administrative leave," police spokeswoman Lt. Catherine Buckley told the Gazette.

While concerned citizens argue the police did not act properly, police officers explain how difficult it is to assess the severity of situations in a state with an open-carry policy.

"Situational awareness is that much more important," Fountain, Colo., police chief Chris Heberer said, stressing the need to uphold gun holders' constitutional right to have guns while still protecting the public.

"Is this person exercising their rights or about to start a very serious situation in which someone is going to be killed?" said Jacki Kelley, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office in an interview with The Denver Post. "We just don't know the difference."

Citizens often call to report armed people in public, police agencies say. Without context, dispatchers rely on the tone of voice from the caller and any information they can gather in order to determine the gravity of the situation.

The state allows individuals the right to carry and possess a weapon in their homes, businesses, and automobiles without requiring licensing.

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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