Bills Would Protect Right of Self-Defense

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Bills Would Protect Right of Self-Defense

by Ari Armstrong, January 17, 2003

In addition to two concealed carry bills, the state legislature will consider three other bills to protect the right of self-defense. One would assure a defendant may raise the issue of self-defense in front of the jury, another would reassert Colorado's constitutional protections for keeping arms for self-defense in cities, and the third would slightly narrow the scope of Amendment 22.

Bill 1148, sponsored by Rep. Mark Cloer and Sen. Mark Hillman, seeks to restore "self-defense as a defense in criminal cases." In addition to giving defendants the ability to argue self-defense in front of a jury, the bill "[r]equires the court to give a self-defense jury instruction in any case in which there is some evidence before the court of self-defense." Supporters of the reform say judicial opinions have whittled away the ability of defendants to use self-defense as an affirmative defense in court, and prosecutors use "multiple theories and charges" to preclude the legitimate invocation of self-defense in court.

From what I can tell, 1148 is the least controversial of all the bills related to self-defense. The bill isn't specifically about firearms, so it is less likely to prompt political posturing. Because it is a general criminal justice issue presumably of relevance to domestic violence, it is likely to garner bipartisan support. The only people likely to oppose the bill are those who make their livings and their political careers by putting more people in prison. The bill faces its first committee hearing vote January 21.

Far more controversial is Sen. Jim Dyer's bill 25, which would make sure Colorado's constitutional protections are recognized by local governments. For instance, the bill would invalidate Denver's ban on politically incorrect rifles. Unfortunately, the bill was significantly weakened January 13 when Republican Sen. Ken Arnold (Westminster) added an amendment to allow localities to ban open carry of arms. Such ordinances, and Arnold's amendment, flagrantly violate Colorado's constitution, which states, "The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question..." Indeed, it is only through the corruption of judicial interpretation that Dyer's bill is even needed.

An editorial in the January 15 Rocky Mountain News cites Colorado's Constitution, but then argues, "The courts have never conceded that the right to own a weapon entitles the owner to go anywhere or do anything he wants with it." But nobody's arguing people should be able to "go anywhere or do anything" with guns. The News is attacking a straw man. Instead, defenders of the right of self-defense, as well as the Constitution, argue a person should be able to carry a gun (or other arm) for self-defense.

Arnold also offered an amendment to "allow" localities to ban the firing of a gun in public. But of course such dangerous activity is against the law anyway. Cities should not be able to ban the firing of guns on established ranges that do not interfere with others' property rights, though.

Opponents of Dyer's bill argue cities are different from rural areas. In one respect that's true: violent crime is much higher in the cities, making the right of self-defense all the more important there.

"Loophole! Loophole!" squawked Tom Mauser (January 14 Rocky Mountain News). Mauser is correct that current law contains a loophole: localities are currently able to violate Colorado's Constitution and people's civil rights. This loophole should be closed. SB-25 passed a Senate Judiciary vote January 13.

Rep. Ray Rose of Montrose is sponsor of 1119. It seeks to rectify some of the peripheral problems of Amendment 22. Of course, the core problem, that 22 expands the registration of peaceable gun owners, is not addressed.

Amendment 22 requires a registration check "[i]f any part of a firearm transaction takes place at a gun show." This ambiguous language invites arbitrary and pernicious enforcement. If a couple of ladies meet at a gunshow, then later swap guns over dinner, that could conceivably be prosecuted. 1119 deletes this language.

Amendment 22 defines a "gun show" as only a single person with 25 or more guns, or as three people who "exhibit, sell, offer for sale, transfer, or exchange" firearms. In other words, if a mother, father, and son sit around the Christmas tree and trade guns in a circle, that's a "gun show." This nonsense too is deleted by 1119 and replaced with the language, "'Gun show' includes only the facility or portion of the facility in which the event or function is advertised as being held and is actually held and in which no fewer than three gun show vendors are present."

Tom Mauser and Cynthia Stone of the victim disarmament group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, the name of which likens gun ownership to a disease, decried the reform. Stone said it "recreates loopholes where the people of Colorado by 70 percent had closed those loopholes." I have three responses. First, most Coloradans who supported the bill did not support the ridiculous definitions of a "gun show" contained within it. Second, Amendment 22 itself expanded the loophole the Brady registration law created in Second Amendment protections. Third, freedom is not a loophole.

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