Boulder a Model of 'Common Nonsense' Gun Laws
by Ari Armstrong, January 19, 2001
On January 16, the Boulder City Council unanimously passed a set of gun ordinances ostensibly intended to "protect the public health, safety, and welfare." Unfortunately, there's no reason to believe the laws will accomplish anything other than to harass peaceable gun owners.
The ordinances, which will not become official until "third reading" later this month, constitute little more than an exercise in passing more laws simply to have more laws on the books. Boulder provides a good example for other communities of what not to do.
In some instances, the Boulder ordinances are just plain silly. For example, it's illegal to carry a gun into a park or open space, up until the point you need to use the gun for self-defense. Then it's legal. Of course, by then it's also too late. (See 5-8-4 and 5-8-22. The text of the proposals can be downloaded at www.ci.boulder.co.us.)
Despite claims that the new ordinances restrict minors' access to firearms, in reality they will do no such thing. Existing city, state, and federal statutes already limit providing children with guns. The new section specific to "rifles and shotguns" is merely redundant for the pre-existing section (now 5-8-12) that specifies "any firearm."
There are some minor differences, of course. Originally, someone "related to the [minor] by blood, marriage, or adoption" could let a minor use a gun. Now that ordinance has been changed to read "parent, grandparent, or legal guardian." The new section about rifles and shotguns lists only the "parent or legal guardian."
State law 18-12-108.5 prevents an adult from transferring any gun to a minor except for purposes of target practicing, hunting, and such. Federal law 18 USC 922(x) prevents an adult from transferring a handgun to a minor. City, state, and federal statutes list a range of exceptions.
At least state and federal laws admit exceptions when the minor has parental permission to use a gun. Boulder law does not. According to the Boulder ordinance, if Grandma gives her seventeen-year-old grandchild a single-shot .22 rifle for Christmas, she's a criminal. Oddly, Grandma isn't a criminal if she gives a handgun instead. An uncle is a criminal if he gives either a rifle or handgun for Christmas, according to the new changes.
The new section "Possession of Firearm by Minor Prohibited" includes exceptions for target practice and travel to an authorized event. Unfortunately, the Boulder ordinance would make it illegal for a minor to, say, carry a gun into a gun shop for repair, even if accompanied by his or her parents.
Of course, few officials are likely to enforce a law so crazy so as to turn Grandma into a criminal for giving a Christmas present, or turn Junior into a criminal for taking his gun in for repairs. But the law should be objective. It should not be open to arbitrary interpretation and enforcement by police officers and prosecutors.
New ordinance 5-8-21 states, "Any person carrying a firearm outside of the person's home, business, or vehicle shall carry the firearm in a carrying case." If the case is not "recognizable as a gun carrying case by a reasonable person," it must be marked as a gun case.
I asked a member of the City Council what the safety value of the new law is. I was told people's minds will be "put to rest" if the gun is in a case. But this is about perceptions, not public safety. Again, the new ordinance is redundant for other laws. Old language states, "No person shall display or flourish a deadly weapon in a manner calculated to alarm another person" (5-8-7). It's also already illegal to point a gun at someone except in self-defense. So what good is the new law?
Peaceable gun owners are again put at risk of unintentionally violating the law. For instance, carrying a gun from one's home to one's car without a case is a crime according to the ordinance. Meanwhile, does the Council somehow imagine that the real criminals are going to pack their guns around in a case with the word "GUN" written on it?
The other major new provision deals with so-called "assault weapons." The Council magnanimously decided not to completely ban such guns. (Several Boulder residents have vowed civil disobedience if such a ban is imposed.)
Once upon a time, the term "assault weapon" applied to fully automatic machine guns. Today, various municipalities and states define select semiautomatic guns as "assault weapons," but no two definitions are the same. In Boulder, "assault weapons" are "all semiautomatic action rifles with a detachable magazine with a capacity of twenty-one or more rounds" (5-8-2). However, semiautomatics generally accept magazines of different capacities. The difference is with the magazine, not the gun. Even the lowest caliber .22 can be matched with a large magazine.
According to this definition, if one had a rifle with a thirty-round magazine and a ten-round magazine, it would be an "assault weapon." But if you throw away the thirty-round magazine -- Voila! -- it's not an "assault weapon" any longer.
The new ordinance says an "assault weapon" must be locked up so minors can't get access to them. Absurdly, the law allows a mother to take her son out target practicing with an "assault weapon," but it turns Mom into a criminal if she allows her son to clean the gun while at home. (City Attorney Joseph de Raismes confirms this interpretation of the ordinance. He said it "absolutely" prevents minors from cleaning such a gun at home.)
Again, what problem is this ordinance going to solve? According to de Raismes, Boulder police have recorded no crimes committed with an "assault weapon" in the last twenty years. The value of the ordinance in terms of safety is nil. The "value" of the ordinance and its companions in demonizing and harassing honest gun owners is substantial.
Addendum: Old language (now 5-8-27; previously 5-8-19) states: "Every secondhand dealer, pawnbroker, or other person engaged in the sale, rental, or exchange of any firearms shall keep a record of each such firearm purchased, sold, rented, or exchanged at retail, which shall be open at all times for inspection by any peace officer."
Does this language apply to private sales, as opposed to FFL sales? It doesn't seem to, but the language is unclear. I asked de Raismes if the law applies to private sales, and he said he doesn't know. He said the law has never been enforced. So how many laws does de Raismes want on the books that are never enforced?