S.A.F.E. Challenge Filed
by Ari Armstrong, August 30, 2000
Today Paul Grant, an attorney, Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, and I lodged a court challenge against the initiative that would expand background registration checks to private sales at gun shows. The initiative is sponsored by the anti-gun lobby group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease.
Volunteers count the S.A.F.E. signatures: (l-r) Doug Fox, Dick Jones, David Bryant, Ari Armstrong, Dan Morris, and Thomas Parker.
S.A.F.E. collected the majority of its signatures prior to the legal starting date, which was July 3, the date of the final Supreme Court ruling. Colorado statues, section 1-40-107(4) states: "No petition for any initiative measure shall be circulated nor any signature thereto have any force or effect which has been signed before the titles and submission clause have been fixed and determined..."
Any signatures collected prior to the final determination of the Supreme Court (in this case July 3) are invalid. The Secretary of State's office warned S.A.F.E. that premature signatures could be ruled invalid.
On August 15-17, I organized a group of volunteers to examine the S.A.F.E. petitions at the Secretary of State's office. (The staff of that office was consistently professional, courteous, and helpful -- a model for other government employees.) The group of volunteers consisted of RMGO members Dick Jones, Dan Morris, and Doug Fox; Libertarian Party members Thomas Parker, David Bryant, and BetteRose Smith; and me. (I am a member of both organizations.) We were surprised to find that S.A.F.E. had collected such a large number of their signatures illegally.
After examining all 5,024 petitions (10,048 pages of signatures), we found that 85,564 of the signatures out of the total of 108,530 were collected prior to July 3. That means 22,966 signatures were collected within the valid time frame.
Of those signatures, some are invalid for other reasons. The Secretary of State's office conducted a random sample of 5,433 names, information we obtained from the office, and found a 22 percent invalidity rate for other reasons. Of the names in the random sample pool, only 890 valid names were collected during the legal time period. Based on that percentage, only 17,778 of the signatures are projected to be valid. S.A.F.E. needed 62,438 valid signatures in order to make the ballot.
The lawyer for S.A.F.E. argues that, if the Supreme Court rules in our favor, that will give challengers the advantage because they can push back the petition gathering date with legal challenges. However, this claim makes light of the importance of having initiatives with clear language that accurately describes its purpose. If the Supreme Court rules with S.A.F.E. that will mean the starting date for collecting signatures would only be known retroactively. Obviously, if the language of a petition changed, only signatures collected under the new language would be valid. If the starting date for gathering signatures were determined retroactively, this would give the advantage to petitions favored by the political biases of judges. Judges who didn't like a particular initiative could invalidate early signatures by requiring minor changes. In addition, the Court could intentionally delay a ruling in order to defeat initiatives the judges didn't like.
By rights, we will win the legal challenge. However, court decisions are sometimes based on politics as much as on the law. Should we lose this legal challenge, we will continue to fight the S.A.F.E. initiative.
Two independent, national studies -- one by Yale scholar John Lott, Jr. and one published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (a generally ant-gun publication) -- found that the national background check system fails to reduce crime. That comes as no surprise; criminals can get their guns through theft or the black market. Further, Lott's study found national background registrations caused an increase in rape of 3.6 percent.
Why is that? Because of incomplete and inaccurate records, usually it's lawful citizens who are wrongfully denied their right to purchase a firearm for self-defense. Unfortunately, rapists and stalkers don't wait around for the paperwork to clear before they attack.
During a 7 News interview today at 5:00 pm, S.A.F.E. co-founder John Head asserted, "They're arguing that criminals have a Constitutional right to own a gun." That's simply a lie. Criminals are already prohibited from owning guns. My argument has always been that background registration checks wrongfully deny lawful citizens, and thereby empower criminals. John Head knows that -- I've explained it to him personally. So he consciously lied in his TV interview in order to misrepresent my views and deceive the voters.. Unfortunately, the 7 News story never offered the counter-argument to Head's misstatement, it gave S.A.F.E. significantly more airtime, and it failed to include comments by Paul Grant.
The S.A.F.E. initiative violates the right of self-defense as well as the right of due process. When the Colorado Bureau of Investigation wrongfully denies a law-abiding citizen his or her right to purchase a firearm, it is then up to that person to demonstrate innocence to the CBI. Since when is the presumption of guilt the standard of American law?
There are some more technical problems with the gun show initiative. It defines a gun show as three or more persons who transfer firearms. For example, if you, your mother, and your grandfather get in a room, trade firearms in a circle, and go home, you are all criminals. Police and prosecutors don't need more arbitrary power to harass peaceable citizens.
Speaking of police powers, during the morning's press conference, Denver police officers and John Rosen of the State Patrol took surveillance photographs of RMGO members. Why? We asked Rosen, and he said he wanted to know who we were. Funny; I don't recall Rosen taking photographs of S.A.F.E. members at their press conferences. It is inappropriate behavior in any case. When we asked Rosen what is the value of such photographs for police enforcement, he was unable to give a coherent answer. Perhaps that is because there is no such value.
Whether we win or lose in court, it is important that Colorado civil rights advocates fight the S.A.F.E. initiative until it is defeated. Handgun Control Inc., perhaps the most prominent anti-civil rights group in America, gave Colorado a "D+" for passing laws restricting gun ownership. In other words, we're doing a decent job of protecting the civil right of self-defense. But we can do better! Next time, let's shoot for an HCI "F," because that will mean we have stopped the gun grabbers' agenda and restored the right to bear arms.