Legislature Tries to Restrict Guns, Abortion

The following column originally appeared in Grand Junction’s Free Press.

February 18, 2008

Pick your poison: Dems and GOP both violate rights

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

A legislative committee heard two bills in two weeks. Both votes split along party lines. The first week, all the Democrats voted to violate our rights. The second week, all the Republicans did so.

Senator Sue Windels sponsored Bill 49 to impose criminal penalties on gun owners who do not store their guns the way that district attorneys deem proper after the fact. On Monday, February 4, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee heard the bill. Windels joined with fellow Democrats Chris Romer and Abel Tapia to pass the bill to the next committee, over the objections of Republicans Bill Cadman and David Schultheis.

On February 11, the committee heard Schultheis’s Bill 95 (which Cadman cosponsored) to impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to observe a 24-hour waiting period for their clients seeking an abortion. Both Republicans voted for the bill, though the Democrats killed it.

While the bills cover quite different situations, they have much in common. Both bills would impose useless additions to Colorado’s already-massive books of statutes. Both would create arbitrary and onerous restrictions on activities that people have a right to pursue but that some ultimately want to ban altogether.

Let’s first look at the gun bill. As the Daily Sentinel pointed out earlier in the month, existing laws already cover cases of placing children in danger. The effect of Bill 49 would be to discourage citizens from keeping firearms for self-defense. When citizens are too afraid of prosecution to defend themselves, the advantage goes to the real criminals.

As Cadman said in a Republican press release, “We have a good balance right now between the need to keep kids from misusing guns and the right of homeowners to be able to defend their families. This bill would upset that balance by giving home intruders the upper hand and tying the hands of homeowners… This bill likely would have a chilling effect on gun ownership.”

Originally, Bill 49 stated that it applied if a gun owner “reasonably should know that a minor would be able to gain access to the firearm” without permission. And who gets to decide what’s “reasonable?” Prosecutors, some of whom are unfriendly toward defensive gun ownership. The committee dropped that language in favor of a line that says the bill applies in cases of “criminal negligence.” In other words, you commit “criminal negligence” if you commit “criminal negligence” — again as determined by prosecutors.

Another problem with the bill is that it says it doesn’t apply if a minor obtains the gun through burglary or robbery. So does the criminal prosecution of the gun owner hinge upon the criminal conviction of the minor? Who decides whether the minor should face charges? Apparently, again the prosecutor gets to make the call.

Of course, while many Colorado Democrats don’t express this motivation, many activists who favor storage laws, waiting periods, and other restrictions ultimately want to ban the use and ownership of guns, at least for defensive purposes.

What about the abortion bill? Bill 95 would have required a doctor to provide information about ultrasounds to all women seeking an abortion, then imposed a 24-hour waiting period. But women already know what abortion implies — the destruction of a potential but not actual person — and are already free to order ultrasounds.

As Jody Berger of Planned Parenthood pointed out to us, an ultrasound cannot even detect a pregnancy before five weeks. And Planned Parenthood already administers an ultrasound for every abortion in its clinics, which offer abortions from around five to eighteen weeks of pregnancy. (The clinics offer “morning after” medications up to 72 hours following intercourse.)

Berger said, “What would have been onerous is the 24-hour waiting period. In a lot of rural areas, a doctor is available only one day a week. And clients who drive three or four hours to come to the Planned Parenthood center in Denver have to make that drive twice. If they come with their husband or boyfriend, that means two people have to take two days off of work.”

So Schultheis, who is on record opposing waiting periods for purchases of firearms, is the sponsor of the bill to impose waiting periods for abortions.

Mike Saccone recorded the hypocrisy of Republicans and Democrats alike in his January 23 and February 11 stories for the Sentinel. Shultheis said his bill was “trying to whatever degree we can to reduce the number of abortions” — the exact attitude of the anti-gun lobby toward gun ownership. Of course, Schultheis really wants to ban abortion, just as many anti-gun activists ultimately want to ban defensive gun ownership.

And Romer said of the abortion bill, “It puts a burden on certain people” — the way that the gun bill that Romer voted for puts a burden on gun owners.

These Democrats and Republicans deserve each other. But Colorado deserves better.

Linn is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son Ari edits FreeColorado.com from the Denver area.