‘I Haven’t Read Any Statute’ on Gun Shows, Buy-Back Organizer Says

The New Covenant Christian Church intends to host a gun buy-back on December 27. Volunteers with the effort also collected ten guns at or near City Park on December 6, for which they paid a total of $500, according to Pastor Reginald Holmes of New Covenant.

According to Colorado law, the event on December 6 as well as the scheduled event on December 27 qualify as gun shows, yet organizers made no indication that they followed the gun-show law on December 6 or intend to do so at the later event. Holmes said, “This is not a gun show,” but he admitted, “No, I haven’t read any statute” on the matter.” He said he would evaluate the text of the statute and get back with me.

As I’ve reviewed, the statutes are clear on the matter. Statute 12-26.1-106 states a gun show is in operation when “not less than three gun show vendors exhibit, sell, offer for sale, transfer, or exchange firearms.” A “vendor” is defined as “any person who exhibits, sells, offers for sale, transfers, or exchanges, any firearm at a gun show.” The statute lists no exception for later turning in the guns to the police.

The statutes further define three main requirements for gun shows. First, anyone accepting guns must undergo a background check. Second, a licensed gun dealer must be on hand to record each transaction. Third, organizers must post notice of the gun show and its background-check requirements.

Holmes talked about his goals and criticized my interpretation of the statute.

Holmes said the problem for the December 27 event is “getting enough sponsors… We’ve used our money up to this point, and haven’t got much support from the community.”

Holmes said of the December 6 event, “We had over 40 people to show up to turn guns in… We had $500 on hand, we took in ten guns,” and turned them into Denver’s “Manager of Safety, as well as other Denver police officers.”

Holmes said that, on December 27, “there will be police officers on hand.” Will the organizers pay them? “No, we’re not paying them.” Holmes said police “probably won’t be there for the whole thing,” only “for the collection” of the guns.

However, Detective Sonny Jackson said “we’re not involved in that” as far as he’s aware, though organizers might have spoken with a police official without his knowledge.

I should have asked Holmes who specifically he or his fellow organizers contacted on the Denver police force regarding the December 27 event, because I’ve now talked to two detectives who know of no police involvement with it. I asked Jackson to get back with me if he learns more information about this.

Jackson did point out that any gun turned in will be investigated. The “only agreement [with event organizers] is that we would take custody of the guns, then have them investigated and destroyed.” He added that the guns would be investigated to “see if they’ve been used in any crime that we’re looking at… basically any gun we get we investigate the weapon to see if it’s been used in a crime.”

I asked Jackson whether the policy of investigating the guns conflicts with the “no questions” policy of the buy-back. He said he’s unsure of the exact promises made by the event’s organizers, but police policy is to investigate the guns.

Because those turning in the guns are not directly investigated, there may not be any direct link between the gun and the person turning it it. However, I imagine that if the police found the gun to have been used in some crime, they would try to track it back to a purchase from a licensed dealer.

Jackson said, “I have no idea whether it’s considered a gun show or not.” He said he’d have to refer the question to an attorney. He asked me if I’d solicited the advice of an attorney, and I said that I was going by the plain language of the statute.

Holmes continued to describe the December 6 event: “We paid the persons for the gun. When they turned them in, they were paid $50 on the spot. People didn’t get the message that the buy-back had been canceled. People showed up with a real eagerness to turn their guns in. We turned away at least 40 to 50 people, and many of them had multiple guns.”

I asked Holmes if, on December 27, volunteers will take the guns, pay for them, then turn them over to police. He said, “That’s the way we’re hoping it will work.”

Holmes said his event is not an attack on legal gun ownership: “This is a hot-button political issue. This issue is being very much misunderstood by certain members of the press, usually those from the right, those who are NRA flag wavers, who think we’re attacking 2nd Amendment rights, but that’s absolutely ridiculous… We’re talking about getting rid of illegal weapons. We don’t believe people should own guns illegally. We want all these illegal guns off the street.”

I asked him what he considers to be an illegal gun. He offered this example: “If your gun is to be registered, and it is not registered.” However, Coloradans don’t have to register guns, though they do have to register to carry a gun concealed. (Federal law requires the registration of certain guns, such as fully-automatic ones, but I doubt that anybody will turn in a full-auto at the buy-back.)

He also said was was talking about cases in which “you have obtained it illegally.” Presumably this includes things like theft and straw purchases.

I asked him whether the organizers made any effort to learn whether the ten guns collected were obtained illegally. Holmes said, “We didn’t ask.”

Holmes said, “We don’t want people to come to this country illegally, we don’t want them to drive illegally, and we don’t want them to own guns illegally… Illegal guns is a problem we have nationwide. In the inner-city, we have a major problem.”

On December 6, “We got 9 millimeters, we got revolvers, we got sem-automatic weapons, we got shotguns, we got all kinds of guns that people were willing to turn in.”

I noted that those guns are legal to own. Holmes replied, “Sure it is. It’s perfectly legal to own it, if you own it legally.”

I then asked Holmes about the gun-show statutes. Is the buy-back a gun show? Holmes answered, “No. We’re not doing a gun show, because they sell guns at gun shows. We’re not selling guns. This is not a gun show.”

I pointed out that the statute does not restrict a gun show to organizers selling guns. What about the “three gun show vendors” clause? “There are no vendors, they’re citizens.” Yet I pointed out that the people turning in the guns are “vendors” under Colorado law.

Holmes pointed out, “The guns do not remain in our possession, these guns are going straight to the police department. You know of any gun show that does that, you gotta let me know.”

I answered that the statute makes no exception for later turning in guns to the police.

“That’s your interpetation,” Holmes said. He asked, “Are you an attorney?” I said I wasn’t, but the language of the statute on this point is clear. It was at this point that he admitted he hasn’t read the relevant statutes, though he said if I sent him a copy he’d review them.

Holmes suggested that I was not practicing journalism; I said that I’m an opinion writer, and that the applicability of the gun-show law is interesting.

Holmes said, “If you have an agenda, we need to terminate this conversation. You crossed the line, son… into interpreting the law. You’re not going to waste my precious air [cell phone] time arguing about whether this is a gun show.”

I risked pushing the line of questioning a bit further, and asked him whether his group intends to follow the gun-show statutes on December 27. He answered, “You are not an attorney, so to pose that kind of question, I would not even dignify that with an answer.”

Did he vote for the gun-show law — Amendment 22 — in 2000? He said he’s not sure, as it wasn’t a large issue for him.

As I am an opinion writer, I feel free to close with a personal note. Holmes seemed to take my questions about the gun show law as a personal attack, and Mike McPhee from the Denver Post also thought my questions constituted a failure to “support” the buy-back (speaking of an agenda). But, as I explained in my answer to McPhee, my interest in the buy-back itself is peripheral.

My personal attitude is that, if the buy-back encourages a few criminals to turn in their guns and find a life of peace, that’s wonderful. I imagine the surrounding attention in the community about crime will have a much greater impact than the buy-back itself. I also suspect that most or all of the guns turned in will be clunkers never used in any crime and not obtained illegally. I think the organizers ought to simply encourage criminals to turn in their weapons to the police without payment, and that the funds probably could find better uses, such as a scholarship fund.

However, if Holmes wants to buy guns and turn them into the police, that’s his business, so far as I’m concerned. I opposed the gun-show law in 2000 and continue to oppose it. Nevertheless, the law clearly applies to the buy-back. I will not be surprised if somebody contorts the language to claim otherwise. Whether the law is uniformly enforced as written, or enforced only on those who don’t enjoy police favoritism, strikes me as a fairly big deal. The fact that the law is absurdly broad is something I pointed out back in 2000.