GSPD’s semi-automatic rifles OK by Vallario, sheriff’s dept. |

GSPD’s semi-automatic rifles OK by Vallario, sheriff’s dept.

Greg Masse
Staff Writer

M-16s and AR-15s, both .223-caliber “assault-style” rifles, were obtained by the Glenwood Springs Police Department before Lt. Lou Vallario was in a position of authority.

That’s what Vallario said Monday in response to a question posed by Dean Moffatt in a letter to the editor in Monday’s Post Independent.

Moffatt’s letter claims he submitted a question at last week’s candidate forum asking Vallario if, as a high-ranking member of the Glenwood Springs Police Department, he participated “in the purchase of a large number of fully-automatic military M-16 rifles.”

According to Moffatt, the forum moderator refused to read the question to Vallario.

Vallario, the Republican candidate for Garfield County Sheriff, said while he wasn’t part of the power structure in the department when they got the guns, he fully supports having them.

“Those M-16s were obtained when former chief Rich Hollar was here,” Vallario said. “I wasn’t in a position of authority at the time when they were obtained.”

Vallario wasn’t sure exactly when the department got the guns, but he guessed it would have been around 1994.

The department was given the M-16s by the military, Vallario said. He also said they converted the guns to semi-automatics, which means the trigger must be pulled each time a shot is fired. A fully-automatic rifle will fire multiple shots with just one pull of the trigger.

Later, Vallario said, the department bought some Bushmaster AR-15s, adding that they are the same models available to civilians.

“The reason we went to rifles in the first place is our shotguns are only good for short distances,” Vallario said. Rifles, he said, are effective at both short distance and long distance.

Most of the department’s shotguns, he said, have since been converted to fire non-lethal beanbags.

“What we’re finding in law enforcement is that the criminals aren’t using six-shooters anymore,” Vallario said.

He also pointed out that the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office supplies its deputies with similar rifles, a point verified by Garfield County Undersheriff Jim Sears.

“What we carry are the Mini-14s,” Sears said. While they, too, are .223-caliber semi-automatic rifles, Sears said they were chosen by his department over the AR-15 because they have wood stocks and appear less intimidating.

“We do have two or three AR-15s in the armory, but we don’t issue those out,” he said. “We don’t have any M-16s. They look too much like an assault rifle.”

Sheriff’s deputies carry the Ruger Mini-14s in their trunks.

“The reason for that is being in a rural area, we need access to a longer-range weapon,” Sears said.

Moffatt explained his reasons for bringing up the issue of high-powered weapons.

“To me, when I see these young policemen graduating from the Glenwood Springs Police Academy, I’m more in fear of them than the sense of security I feel by having them,” he said.

“His comments to justify it don’t explain to me why law enforcement in a small community has to have a cranking up of weaponry.”

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