As I’ve pointed out, a proposed gun buy-back project in Denver falls under Colorado’s gun-show laws, passed in 2000 as Amendment 22. Statutes declare that a gun show exists when “not less than three gun show vendors exhibit, sell, offer for sale, transfer, or exchange firearms,” and a “vendor” is “any person who exhibits, sells, offers for sale, transfers, or exchanges, any firearm…” So the gun buy back is a gun show under Colorado law.
This is a fact that the Denver Post’s Mike McPhee does not think his readers ought to know. After McPhee co-wrote a December 6 story about how the buy-back was delayed over a permit snafu at City Park — it turns out that park rules prohibit firearms — I asked McPhee about the gun-show angle.
I wrote, “You still haven’t reported whether the gun buy-back’s organizers plan to follow the gun-show laws; the group is clearly a gun show under Colorado law.”
McPhee replied, “adn why are you so worried if they fall under the gun-show laws? you don’t support this buy-back? why not?”
But the issue is not whether I support the buy-back, but whether the law will be enforced uniformly, or only on those disliked by the establishment. The premise that police should enforce the law selectively, according to a political agenda, is quite dangerous. So I wrote back, “I’m not ‘worried’ about it; I’m just wondering if the law will be uniformly enforced. Why are you so resistant to reporting the relevant facts?”
I’m not resistant at all, and don’t know why you think I should report it, or why you even care if I report it.
The cops know about this, the city knows about it, everyone knows about it.
If the guns are turned over to the cops, who will be near by, what is your concern?
Finally someone is doing something good, and you’re all worried if he’s got a license or something.
Go buy back some guns with him, or give him a donation. i’ll report that.
In other words, McPhee admits that he’s not interested in reporting the facts about the gun-show law because of his personal agenda.
I am happy to take this opportunity to answer McPhee.
First, insofar as the buy-back encourages gangsters and other criminals to hand over their guns and give up their lives of violence, it is a worthy project. However, offering $50 for guns is only going to encourage people with broken or crappy guns worth less than $50 to turn in their guns for a profit. Active criminals are unlikely to turn their guns in, especially given the event is, as McPhee points out, closely linked with the police. To me, a better program simply would have been to encourage criminals to destroy their weapons and stop committing crimes. Another problem with the buy-back is that it was not limited in outreach to criminals; various promoters said they wanted peaceable people to turn their guns in, too. But that has nothing to do with stopping crime. (A firearms training program for responsible citizens would do a lot more to deter crime.)
But the central issue is not about whether the gun buy-back is a good idea. It is about the unintended consequences of unjust laws, and whether those laws will be selectively enforced according to the political agendas of the establishment.
I opposed Amendment 22. Back in 2000, I warned that the definition of a gun show was arbitrary and would “only serve to harass peaceable gun owners.” I didn’t anticipate that the law also would apply to gun buy-backs.
No, I do not think that the organizers of the buy-back — legally the gun show — should be subject to those restrictions. I don’t believe those restrictions should exist in law. However, I also see an enormous problem if police enforce the gun show laws only for organizations they don’t like, and wink at the law when it suits their political agenda.
Now, I do not know whether the event’s organizers are aware of the applicability of the gun-show law to their proposed event. I have not yet been able to find contact information for Alvertis Simmons, and I’ve left a message for Pastor Reginald Holmes of New Covenant Christian Church, where the rescheduled buy-back is planned. Perhaps the event’s organizers are aware of the law and plan to follow it. This is a question that reporters should answer, and that I will answer as soon as I can get ahold of the relevant parties.
I’ve also asked a spokesperson with the Denver Police Department whether officers will attend the event, whether they will be on duty, and whether they will ensure enforcement of the gun show statutes. I will post those answers as soon as I receive them. [Update: Denver Police Detective Sharon Avendano called me back at around 12:45 p.m. She said, “We have not been notified or advised of this at this time,” even though the police “were [notified] on the last one they had,” the one scheduled for December 6 that was cancelled. It’s unclear to me, then, why McPhee believes the police “will be near,” when the police apparently had not been contacted about the rescheduled event.]
To review, Colorado law imposes three main requirements on gun shows: the organizers must post a notice regarding the gun show, they must have a licensed firearms dealer on hand to record each transaction, and anybody receiving guns must undergo a background check.
The background check may not be a problem, as Simmons has said people can “drop the gun in the box,” presumably for the police to pick up. McPhee asserts that “cops… will be near by,” but I’d like verification of that fact. Will police officers be present at the church during the entire event? (Good luck getting criminals to show up.) Will they collect the box after the fact? Will anyone else receive guns?
Notably, the gun-show law does not make any exceptions if police are the recipients of the guns. While the background checks presumably would be taken care of, the posting and recording requirements would still apply.
Also note that Colorado law imposes criminal penalties on the people turning in their guns, if they don’t make sure the recipient has undergone a background check. The person turning in a gun has the legal obligation to “obtain approval of a transfer from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation after a background check has been requested by a licensed gun dealer.” Presumably the CBI could issue a blanket approval for a particular officer.
One question I’d like to ask Simmons and Holmes is whether they voted for Amendment 22.
The advocates of Amendment 22 intended to make it harder to transfer guns. They’ve succeeded, in ways that neither they nor I anticipated. But this is a fact thus far excluded from Denver’s newspapers, which were hardly as reserved about cheerleading the passage of Amendment 22.