The second reading of an ordinance dealing with offensive gestures, guns and other disorderly conduct fired off some debate among Gypsum Town Council members at a meeting last week.
The council ultimately passed the ordinance unanimously after the town’s attorney, Bob Cole, clarified that the laws are already in effect at the state level and the town ordinance allows for offenses to be tried in Gypsum’s municipal court instead of district court.
The section of the ordinance that received heavy discussion by the council reads:
“A person commits the municipal offense of disorderly conduct if he or she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:
“(a) Makes a coarse and obviously offensive utterance, gesture, or display in a public place and the utterance, gesture, or display tends to incite an immediate breach of the peace; or
“(b) Makes unreasonable noise in a public place or near a private residence that he has no right to occupy; or
“(c) Fights with another in a public place except in an amateur or professional contest of athletic skill; or
“(d) Not being a peace officer, discharges a firearm in a public place except when engaged in lawful target practice or hunting; or
“(e) Not being a peace officer, displays a deadly weapon, displays any article used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a deadly weapon, or represents verbally or otherwise that he or she is armed with a deadly weapon in a public place in a manner calculated to alarm.”
Council member Tom Edwards said he was wary of item A because it was “wide open for interpretation.”
Council member Tim McMichael agreed that the ordinance was in a gray area between freedom of speech and disorderly conduct.
Cole said it is subject to the interpretation of law enforcement and judges.
Gypsum contracts with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department for its law enforcement. While serving the town, deputies enforce the town’s ordinances, which means offenders may end up in the town’s municipal court instead of district court, depending on how the crime is cited.
“All of our sheriff’s deputies have to interpret ‘A’ anyway, right now,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll. “It’s just a matter of whether they write it into district court or town municipal court. We already had one case of disorderly conduct at the golf course this year. It was mostly around drunkenness but that turned into [verbal volleys] that escalated into a fight.”
Cole said Shroll was correct in that the ordinance already exists as state law and offenses are cited into court; the measure passed by Gypsum Council members merely brings offenses that were previously going to the county level into the town’s municipal court.
Council member Gary Lebo went on to express concern with the ambiguity of item E, regarding the display of a weapon in a manner that causes alarm.
“I think there a lot of people, just seeing a gun around, they go absolutely bonkers,” said council member Beric Christiansen. “You could have a Pop-Tart that looks like a pistol and everybody would get all upset.”
Cole said it would be up to a judge to decide the viability of the charge in the unlikely event that someone was ever cited for something like that, not the subjective opinion of a panicked citizen.
“Pop-Tarts and wooden rifles would not meet the elements of this violation,” Cole said.
Council Member Dick Mayne joked that the town should follow Nucla’s example and pass a symbolic, unenforceable ordinance that mandates residents to own guns.
“I could get behind that,” McMichael said.
As the gun control debate continues to deepen across the nation, Gypsum council members have made it clear where they stand on the right to bear arms. In February, they passed a resolution supporting the Second Amendment.