Throwing a heavy net of restrictions over gun users was always going to entangle law abiding Coloradans’ Constitutional rights. But Sara Warren couldn’t have guessed how it would trip up her ability to make a living.
No one foresaw her plight because no one thought through the battery of gun controls conceived in Washington DC and New York City and imposed on the Rocky Mountains.The President insisted; Joe Biden insisted; Michael Bloomberg insisted; and governing Democrats saluted: If we can grab guns here in western, purple Colorado, we can do it anywhere.
The state’s malpractice was hasty, deliberate, and cowardly. The Democrat-controlled legislature stiff-armed overwhelming public opposition, ignored warnings of numerous flaws and drafting problems, skipped any attempt to fix bad bills, and rushed the slate by razor margins to the governor. John Hickenlooper signed the package in a rushed, closed event. Coloradans were unamused over being treated as symbolic pawns in a national chess game. Three recalled lawmakers paid with their jobs.
Now the state is paying in confusion and harassment of innocent citizens. As reported in Loveland’s Reporter-Herald, Ms. Warren is a contract maid and housecleaner. For her safety, she legally carries a gun into unknown buildings and residences. Well, she used to carry. She’s been without her handgun and fearful to take on unfamiliar new jobs since she was injured in an auto accident in April.
What does that have to do with her gun? It seems ambulance EMTs took the gun from her car or purse, gave to hospital employees, who gave it Ft. Collins Police, who won’t give it back to her. They claim they can’t under the new laws.
One bill codified the reportedly popular idea of universal background checks for all gun transfers, commercial or private. Concepts often poll well, but details can bite. Opponents warned at the time the language was too broad, the provisions unclear, and all kinds of unintended mischief was in store.
Ft. Collins police say their city attorney--and apparent legal guardian and custodian of their judgment and sense—advises them the gun was transferred out of Warren’s possession. Now, the cops possess it. Re-transfer to its owner requires a “universal background check.” Complicating things, the law routes such checks through licensed gun dealers—FFLs or Federal Firearms Licensees in industry parlance—because private parties don’t have access to criminal databases.
Ft. Collins has no FFL on staff, so the police profess to be unable to perform the necessary check. They’re all tied in knots and can’t return Ms. Warren’s gun. This is offensive lunacy. Human beings acting as public servants instead of people-pushing, gun-grabbing, police-state bureaucrats could solve Ms. Warren’s problem several ways immediately.
A. Judges apply a common rule of statutory interpretation: Give laws their literal meaning, but try to avoid absurd, uncontemplated results. Losing the right to possess a firearm because of an accident is absurd. Police holding the gun is an emergency custodial circumstance, not a “transfer” contemplated by the statute.
B. Ms Warren is the victim of a series of unlawful and voidable handoffs of the gun. Ambulance personnel didn’t undergo background checks to take the gun. Hospital staff was unchecked when it took the hot potato, and police already confess they lack a handy FFL, so they took the gun with unwashed hands. Each handoff should be seen as a legally deficient transfer, the entire sequence unwound, and the gun restored to its lawful owner.
C. If Ft. Collins police are genuinely concerned about Warren’s lawful status, they have access to crime databases to check her out in minutes. State law involves an FFL only because lawmakers considered private transfers, and failed to anticipate circumstances where law enforcement needs to return a weapon to a rightful owner. It’s nonsense for police to pretend they can’t confirm Warren’s clean bill of legal health.
D. If a bureaucrat insists a gun check by a private FFL is the only ticket out of this mess, then the department already should have done what lawmakers imposed on the rest of us: meet her at a gun store and get the check done.
It appears D will be the city’s eventual solution, some two months and an unknown amount of lost work since Warren’s accident. This isn’t the first time gun grabbers have reminded us the Law is an Ass. Last summer a community group organizing a gun buyback event with the Boulder County Sheriff’s Department scrapped the project when they realized it would trigger background check requirements for collecting the guns and handing them to the sheriff.
The city’s rigid stance is an act of bad faith. Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, who opposed the gun bills—virtually all of Colorado’s sheriffs opposed the bills--and is not involved in this dispute, told the Reporter-Herald, the law is unworkable as written; but, police can find ways to do the right thing. For example, state law enforcement doesn’t generally perform FFL checks when it transfers guns within agencies, even though it would be literally required. It relies on information accessible in crime databases. That’s a simple solution for Warren’s problem.
"I'll risk being in noncompliance with the law before I'm keeping somebody's property we have no right to keep," Smith told the Reporter-Herald. Now, that’s the attitude of someone trying to serve the citizens, not screw with gun owners.