Colorado Civil Arms Update (March 14, 2003)

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Colorado Civil Arms Update

by Ari Armstrong, March 14, 2003

As the AP and Denver Post reported March 14, Senate Bills 24 and 25 passed the House (that day). 24 pertains to concealed carry, while 25 prevents municipalities from restricting the right of self-defense. Julia Martinez of the Post wrote a fairly good article about the legislation, selecting appropriate quotes from both sides. She also adequately set the context: "If Senate Bills 24 and 25 become law, Colorado will join more than 30 other states that have relaxed their gun laws in recent years, dumping local gun regulations and abandoning local police discretion to deny concealed-weapons permits."

Rep. Lauri Clapp fended off an amendment to prevent college students from protecting themselves, saying guns "empower women to protect themselves... I submit to you that a firearm is the ultimate equalizer."

On March 13, Dudley Brown of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners reported in an e-mail the bills had passed second reading. He pointed to an article by David Kopel about 25. Bill 24 now requires training within the past 10 years. Brown doesn't like the fact that 24 establishes a state-wide database of concealed-carry permit holders, requires a $100 fee, and mandates training.

Peggy Lowe of the Rocky Mountain News reported March 12 that Bill 1119, the proposal by Rep. Ray Rose to more clearly define a "gun show," was amended the previous day to define a show as "50 or more firearms and 10 vendors." Another amendment applied the rules to parking areas for gun shows. However, Committee Chair Bill Sinclair then pulled the bill, which means it may be dead for the year.

Meanwhile, The AP reported March 11, "The Arizona House approved a bill yesterday that would erase a court ruling that says cities can require background checks for people buying guns at shows using city facilities." If Arizona legislators can completely ban gun registrations for private gun sales, why can't Colorado legislators at least reasonably define a "gun show" to preclude small, non-commercial gatherings of friends?

The Rocky Mountain News editorialized against 1119 on March 11, though its writers admitted the definition of a "gun show" should be clarified. The News argued, "Background checks are a legitimate tool for keeping firearms out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them, without unduly burdening law-abiding people who want to exercise their right to keep and bear arms. Allowing the loophole made no sense..."

However, I believe it is an "undue burden" to force peaceable gun owners to register with the national government prior to buying a gun. It is also an "undue burden" on the minority of gun buyers who are wrongly denied based on incomplete or inaccurate records. Further, background checks are ineffective at stopping criminals from using guns to commit crimes.

The Denver Post editorialized March 6 in favor of the more restrictive (and more deeply flawed) state CBI redundant background check on gun buyers:

The more-comprehensive background check was reinstated in the summer of 1999, after Simon Gonzales bought a gun and used it to kill his three daughters. After committing the June murders, he died in a shootout with Castle Rock police. Gonzales never would have been able to buy the murder weapon if the state check had been performed, because it would have revealed that a restraining order had been filed against him in connection to a domestic violence complaint. The FBI check did not contain that information.

The Post's reasoning is flawed. Even if Gonzales would have been prevented from buying the particular gun he ended up using, he would not have been prevented from buying a gun. He violated the conditions of the restraining order and committed murder, so he would have had no compunctions about buying a gun on the criminal market. Even if he had lacked a gun, does the Post imagine that would have somehow prevented him from murdering three little girls? Firearms are known as equalizers. Large men will always have a physical advantage over small women and children. Gonzales could have substituted a knife, hammer, shovel, water, rope, car, or his bare hands to commit the murders. Meanwhile, people who need a defensive gun are sometimes prevented from buying one because of the faulty registration checks. Instead of wasting police resources registering peaceable gun owners, we should be using those resources to protect at-risk women and children.

As I argued previously, imposing a special tax on a fundamental right is unjust. The Post disagrees. In the same editorial, the Post wrote:

If the state can save nearly $2 million by expecting Colorado gun buyers to pay a portion of what it costs to perform instant criminal background checks, the legislature should move to do so... [M]aking gun buyers pay a $10 fee toward the cost of the checks is a reasonable place to save money from Colorado's hard-pressed general fund... A $10 fee from gun buyers is a small price to pay to keep much-needed public protections in place.

I will not here repeat the arguments I made in the article cited above. I will add, though, that even if we assume the Post's (unsubstantiated) claim that the CBI checks are a useful safety measure, that would still not imply gun buyers should foot the bill. After all, if the checks offer "public protections," then the "public" should pay for them.

Peaceable gun buyers actually thereby benefit the community at large. This is so because an armed population deters crime. If anything, then, gun owners should be subsidized because of the positive economic externalities they provide.

To extend the analogy of book-buying, it would be as unjust and utterly tyrannical to require buyers of the Quran to register with the federal government, even though some readers of the Quran pose a threat to other Americans. An added injustice would be to require book-buyers to pay for their registration.

A March 9 headline in the Post (page 1B) manifests an error similar to that of previous headlines. It reads, "Gun-bill fights all about control: Local vs. state power at issue." That's not the case at all. What's at issue is individual rights vs. government oppression.

* * * * *

John Ensslin reported for the News March 6, "A Lakewood man was shot to death Wednesday while he was trying to teach his 13-year-son to handle a gun safely."

Ensslin thoughtfully added, "Lakewood police spokeswoman Stacie Oulton said... police generally advise that gun-safety classes with qualified instructors are the best and safest way to educate children on handling firearms."

Charley Able added the next day,

A Lakewood man shot to death while teaching his 13-year-old son about home protection placed the gun under a pillow and told the boy to grab the weapon. Scot Hoffa, 36, was trying to show his son how to deal with intruders in different situations, police said Thursday as they reconstructed events of the day before. "Obviously the dad didn't plan ahead. If he was going to be covering these different scenarios, he should have made sure that any gun he was going to utilize was checked and unloaded," said Lakewood Police Sgt. Dan McCasky.

This is a terrible tragedy for the entire family, but especially for the son, who will have to deal with feelings of guilt, even though it wasn't his fault.

Gun owners need to be sensitive about the tragic unintentional shooting, but we also need to police our own. The father obviously wasn't prepared to instruct his son about the safe handling of firearms. If he had followed the safety rules presented in any class, the tragedy would have been prevented.

"Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction."

"Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot."

"Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use."

(The Basics of Personal Protection, NRA, pp. 37-39.)

Unfortunately, all three of those safety rules were broken. If even one of them had been followed (never should even one be broken), the tragedy would have been prevented. Even though unintentional shootings have been declining for the past century, any tragedy is one too many. I hope instructors use this story (absent the names) to reinforce to students just how important safety is. Gun ownership is all about personal responsibility. Part of that responsibility is helping other gun owners be safe.

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