He's a Real Pistol

Is that a banana in your pocket, or was Bob Silva elected sheriff?

How legitimate is Silva's shot at winning in November? The former deputy, who also ran for sheriff in 1994, says he has a great chance to unseat incumbent Riecke Claussen, even though Claussen beat him four years ago with 54 percent of the vote.

"I think last time I just peaked too early," says Silva, adding that he also ran out of campaign cash a couple of weeks before the election. He says he has higher hopes this time around because of the donations he expects to pour in from around the state and the nation. Even the religious right may chip in: Silva says he recently met with a group of 75 local members of the Christian Coalition and found them receptive to his plan. "They were really glad to hear what I was saying," Silva says. "They said they'd be willing to help me with contributions and whatnot."

Claussen vows to give Silva a run for his money, though he doesn't expect to raise as much dough himself. And he says he's not afraid to face Silva on the concealed-weapon issue. Claussen has a lifetime membership in the NRA and hasn't exactly been shy about issuing permits himself. So far he's given out about 75 permits to county residents, many of them women who want a handgun for protection. But he says issuing any more would "go against the ideas of responsible gun ownership."

Claussen says he takes Silva seriously, and he doesn't have to look far for a reminder of how incumbent lawmen can be beat to the draw by pro-gun candidates. Claussen's chief of operations is Bill Gardner, who for eight years was a highly regarded sheriff in La Plata County. In 1994 Gardner faced opposition from Bayfield town marshal Duke Schirard, who promised to liberalize the granting of concealed-weapon permits.

Gardner says several people offered him campaign contributions in exchange for the promise of a permit. "If I said no, they said they were going to give the money to the other guy," he adds. Gardner refused--and then watched Schirard rake in $42,000, more than triple the amount ever before spent on a sheriff's race in that county. "It's an emotional issue, and it certainly draws a lot of money," Gardner says.

And in La Plata County, the money got results. After flooding the local media with advertisements, Schirard beat Gardner with 57 percent of the vote. After his election, he handed out so many permits that more than 400 county residents are now licensed to carry, making La Plata second in the state behind El Paso County in the number of permits issued.

Schirard openly acknowledges that some of those permits went to big campaign contributors. He says several people from outside the county also offered to give him money before the last election if he'd agree to give them a permit. However, he says that, even for him, crossing county lines goes too far. "There are those special-interest people who live and breathe this issue, but I just don't agree with that," he notes. "Nobody knows the citizens like the local sheriff, and I think they ought to have the final say."

But Bob Silva disagrees. "If they meet my code, I think anyone in the state should get a permit," says the candidate, who's already planning campaign stops at Colorado gun shows. "Why not?

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