Debate over background checks continue years after passage
By: Bart Bedsole
It was the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 that prompted state lawmakers to require background checks at gun shows, because that’s where the two shooters bought their guns to carry out the massacre.
It was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, 13 years later, that prompted state lawmakers to require universal background checks.
That means that no matter how you purchase a gun in Colorado — be it from a shop or a show or a friend in a “private sale” — a background check by a federally licensed dealer is required.
Paradise Sales owner Paul Paradis says the check starts with a list of questions on a form about your criminal or military history, and then the dealer runs your name through state and federal databases by phone or online to verify your eligibility to purchase a firearm.
It sounds extensive, but state and federal data shows it takes about six minutes, and more than 98 percent of all buyers pass.
So have those universal checks passed in 2013 made a difference?
It depends on who you ask.
Former State Senate President John Morse, who supported universal checks and other measures in 2013, and was then recalled for supporting gun control, says they have.
Since 2013 when the law went into effect, 2,193 people attempting to purchase a gun in a private sale transaction — individual to individual — were denied because they were ineligible.
That’s almost 29 denials per month.
Click here for the annual state from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
“We want to make it harder for bad guys to get guns. That’s just flat common sense,” said Morse, adding that he would gladly give up his seat again if it meant potentially saving lives through gun control.
However, gun control opponents argue that universal checks have missed the mark because failing a background check doesn’t mean someone won’t eventually get a gun illegally.
Bob Holmes, owner of Whispering Pines Gun Club says, “The laws we have work, but they work for the honest people. The criminals are going to get a gun no matter what.”
“We have never stopped a single person from getting, making, stealing a gun and using it in a violent crime,” said Paradis.
According to the NRA, “federal studies have repeatedly found that persons imprisoned for firearm crimes get their firearms mostly through theft, the black market, or family members or friends.”
El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, who also opposes universal checks, confirms that there is a black market for guns in his county.
“There are ways. If you want to find a gun, you will find a gun,” he said.
Morse, a former police chief in Fountain, admits the system isn’t perfect, but believes it has prevented crimes.
“Did we make it impossible? Of course not. Can we make it impossible? We can’t. Can we make it a whole lot harder? Yes, we can,” he said.
Colorado has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to background checks for both gun shows and individual-to-individual purchases. But a lot of states don’t have background checks in place for either.
Wyoming to the north doesn’t require them for either, and neither does the federal government, even though most Americans say they support it.
An ABC News poll in September found 89 percent of Americans support universal checks.
Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to require them, but the bill has since stalled.
Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and other Democrats have called on leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate to act on it, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won’t spend any time on it unless President Trump first confirms he would sign it.
Following the back-to-back shootings in El Paso and Dayton in August, Trump said he supported meaningful background checks, but days later suggested that might not be the answer.
“They would not have stopped any of it,” Trump said.
The last time gun control legislation passed at the federal level was 1994.
Lately in Colorado, the issue of red flag legislation has received more attention than background checks, magazine size limits, or any other gun control measures.
The 2019 law allows those in law enforcement or a family member to ask a judge take away guns from a person going through some type of mental crisis.
A lawsuit was filed shortly after it passed to stop it, but not on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
The lawsuit claims that lawmakers didn’t follow the proper legislative procedures when failing to read the bill aloud upon request before a final vote.
The attorney who filed it, Barry Arrington, tells KRDO that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser then responded with a motion to dismiss the case.
However, Arrington says the judge overseeing the case has yet to call a hearing to rule on the dismissal or set a trial date, so as of this time, the red flag legislation is on schedule to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Arrington said they haven’t decided yet whether to seek an injunction or a temporarily restraining order to prevent the law from taking effect.
How school shootings impact victims' families
By: Kristen Skovira
The father of the boy who died in the STEM School Highlands Ranch shooting, Kendrick Castillo, is speaking out. He says guns are part of the problem, but not the reason his son died.
Mass shootings tear families apart, long after the headlines fade. Since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, Colorado has been connected to mass shootings. Sadly, they are only becoming more frequent.
These violent incidents happen just about every 15 days in the United States. According to the Justice Department, a mass shooting is defined as three or more people killed in a single incident, excluding the suspect.
The U.S. has the 28th highest rate of deaths from gun violence in the world, about 4.43 deaths per 100,000 people. Based on the country’s socioeconomic status, researchers say that number should be a fraction of that, closer to 0.47 deaths per 100,000 people.
The most recent infamous school shooting in Colorado, at the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, took the life of 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo.
Because the shooting at Highlands Ranch claimed one life — not three lives or more — it’s not considered a ‘mass’ shooting. But it could have been. Many, including Governor Jared Polis, credit Castillo with preventing the loss of more lives.
Kendrick’s father, John Castillo, sat down with KRDO’s Kristen Skovira.
He says that while guns are part of the problem, they’re not the reason his son died. He says Kendrick was his only son and his best friend. Now, after his death, John spends his time advocating for his son and says the solution isn’t just one change — it’s several small ones.
John and his wife, Maria, have kept their home in Highlands Ranch, Colorado much the same after Kendrick’s death. His room is empty. But his graduation gown lays on the bed, posters cover the walls and almost everywhere are reminders of a life spent looking forward.
He says Kendrick was a kid with a constant grin.
“It was just infectious,” said John.
John says his son knew he was meant for more than earth-bound things. He loved space, robotics, and engineering.
“Kendrick quickly realized that his dream of working in aerospace was more than a dream. It was reality,” he said.
Kendrick was an only child, so his friends were his family and his father John was his biggest fan. He says they would text throughout the day, always in constant contact.
So on May 7, 2019, when John heard there was an active shooter on his son’s STEM school campus, Kendrick’s sudden silence stopped him cold.
“Maria and I knew immediately,” he said. “Even though we didn’t want to believe it to be true. We knew if there was one person at that school who would stand up and do something it would be Kendrick.”
John rushed to the school, saw the chaos, and the relieved reunions.
“I got to the rec center and I got out of my vehicle, jumped a small fence in the neighborhood. I could see clearly that parents — they were communicating with their kids,” he said.
The text he was waiting for never came.
“And then, shortly after that, I got a text from one of his friends saying, ‘Mr. Castillo, Kendrick rushed the shooter,'” he said.
Unsure of his condition, John and Maria raced to an area hospital. But their only son was gone.
“That’s how we found out,” John said through tears, “Maria was like ‘Can you take us to him?’ And they said, ‘No, he’s still part of the crime scene. He’s in the school. And that’s when our lives changed forever. We had to drive home in the rain, in the dark.'”
Now, they spend their days, searching for the light, seeking ways to keep Kendrick’s name out front so other families never experience similar pain.
John says he’s part of a group no one wants to join.
“I’m surprised when I go to the capitol to talk on school safety, how many surviving families are now advocating for things. They have a passion for it. I mean they’re fighting back in a way. They’re fighting back against domestic terror. And that’s my label for it now,” he said.
John says he is fighting against terror and fighting for a son who can no longer fight for himself.
“We think, ‘Man that’s a horrible event. Thank god we will never have to experience anything like that. Or it’s not going to happen.’ And that’s the way I was. Just as many people are, I’m sure, with this event at STEM,” he said.
Before this event, John and Kendrick were no stranger to guns — both were avid hunters.
“Guns are an instrument and a tool. We’re hunters and outdoors people and we have guns, that’s no secret. Even though it was a bullet and a gun that took my son’s life, I don’t feel that if we take those things away that it’s gonna improve anything,” he said.
In Colorado, he’s watched Columbine, the Aurora theater shooting, Planned Parenthood, and then STEM. He says that preventing these shootings start with sensible changes like limiting magazine capacity. He’s also an advocate for armed staff at schools, not necessarily teachers, but something similar to U.S. Air Marshals on planes.
“There’s some anonymity and no one knows who that person is,” he said.
John says the focus should also be on supporting our children. He says as society we need to be better about recognizing potential red flags in young people and taking action.
“As a father, you know we only have two roles and that’s to go to work and provide for our family. Love them. And protect them,” he said.
He says no matter what, he’ll continue to speak for his son who refused to be a victim.
“I’m his voice because he was silenced May 7th. I have to advocate for what he could’ve been,” he said.
Does the 2nd Amendment stand test of time?
By: Krystal Story
In 27 words, America’s founding fathers shaped gun rights for centuries, not knowing how the Second Amendment would divide the country centuries later.
The Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Gun rights proponent and gun store owner, Paul Paradis says, “I have the right to protect myself.”
On the other side of the issue, Katie Barrett, running for Colorado’s House District 45, says, “We’ve really got hung up on the shall not be infringed. I do not want my neighbor to have a bazooka.”
Their opinions are just that; opinions. Constitutional professor at the University of Denver, David Kopel says the Bill of Rights, was meant to stand the test of time.
“It would be a document that would provide the United States with a stable free, government able to survive over the long-term.”
Many have asked if our founding fathers knew their term ‘arms’ would include guns like AR-15s, large-capacity magazines or semi-automatic weapons.
Sociology and criminology professor Trent Steidley says they kept their writing vague on purpose.
“It does bear on arms, broadly defined as more modern types of weapons, so semi-automatic rifles, semi-automatic hand-guns these are all kinds of things that fall into the preview of it,” Steidley said.
The Constitution was written 232 years ago, and since then, the Second Amendment’s validity and relevance have been questioned in our current climate.
Steidley asks, “Do we want to change what we think about gun rights?”
Eleven years ago, the very question was asked. In Washington D.C. versus Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the 2nd Amendment, hundreds of years later still protects an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, even if they couldn’t imagine what ‘arms’ would look like.
“It’s living in the sense [that] it’s not tied to one type of technology. It expresses eternal principals of good government, one of which is, the people should be stronger than the government, and not vice-versa,” Kopel explains.
Despite its challenge, the tension between the pro and anti-gun groups still boils over.
Dudley Brown with Rocky Mountain Gun Owners says, “My constitution doesn’t actually say there should be restrictions.”
His thought process is challenged by people like Jillian Freeland, running for Colorado’s 5th Congressional District, who says, “We need federal level regulation. It’s not going to change on its own.”
Even though they can’t agree, Steidley says both sides will have to come together.
“We have democratic processes in place to talk about these things. Reasonable people are going to disagree about the limits of those things. That’s up to us as Americans to try and work out together.”
Otherwise, these words written in the constitution, “a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” will be left for more interpretation.
What defines an 'assault weapon'?
By: Josh Helmuth
It often takes just one or two syllables for the terrible images to come to mind: Columbine, Aurora, Planned Parenthood. Those are simply a few of the infamous mass shootings that have plagued our state; in every instance, the gunman used a military-style “assault weapon” to kill.
The divisive question remains – should assault-style weapons be legal or not?
Looking at data from 1981-2017, so-called “assault weapons” were responsible for 86 percent of deaths in mass shootings in the United States.
So what’s the justification for owning these military-style semi-automatic weapons?
For Mel Bernstein, the answer is simple.
“See the big smile on my face? That’s why we shoot machine guns here,” said the Colorado Springs gun-store owner.
Bernstein is a Class-7 gun dealer, meaning he can also manufacture his own guns. He can also own fully-automatic machine guns that he can rent to customers who can shoot them supervised at one of his seven ranges.
“This one here’s a Glock-17 that I converted to fully-automatic. And you won’t believe how fast this shoots. It actually shoots almost 750 bullets a minute,” said Bernstein.
Bernstein, also known as “Dragon Man,” has been dubbed the most armed man in the country.
“In this store, we have 1,900 and in my museum, I have over 3,000 working weapons,” he said. “I get a bang out of it,” laughed the Vietnam War veteran.
If you want to buy a legal gun – especially a semi-automatic gun – in southern Colorado, you’ve likely heard of “Dragon Man.”
“Being an American, a law-abiding citizen, you really should be able to own anything you want with the right paperwork,” he said.
Bernstein believes the Second Amendment should be protected, and that self-defense is also a main factor in his stance for gun ownership.
“Tell you the truth, there’d be a lot less crime if everybody carried a weapon,” he said.
“’John’ over here has to do the background check when he buys a gun, and get approved. ‘George,’ he laughs at this. This is a joke. Because he buys his guns from criminals. The more laws they make, they’re really for law-abiding citizens. Criminals are going to be here forever,” Bernstein said.
So which guns are currently legal and which are not?
Fully-automatic weapons, or “machine guns,” can fire multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger. These guns are illegal, unless they’re older than 1986, in which case you can own them because they’re grandfathered in. However, you can only own fully-automatic guns that are older than 33 years only after passing a rigorous background check that can take up to a year, and after registering the gun federally.
Semi-automatic weapons fire as fast as one can pull the trigger, one bullet at a time. Anyone in Colorado over the age of 18 can own a semi-automatic gun as long as they pass a standard background check.
And high-capacity magazine clips? They can’t hold more than 15 rounds. Anything more is illegal.
But how does one define an “assault weapon?”
“What they’re trying to get to is semi-automatic, magazine-fed firearms that function similar to the military’s firearms,” said Dudley Brown.
Brown is the founder of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a partner of the National Rifle Association. His group is leading the charge against Colorado’s magazine ban that limits clips to just 15 rounds. The state’s Supreme Court is looking at their case this month.
Brown believes every person in America should have an AR-15 hanging in their closet. He also says self-defense is the main motivator behind protecting assault-style weapons.
“An M-16 is a pretty natural firearm, and I don’t think there should be any restrictions, no,” he said.
“The unintended consequences of banning firearms like assault weapons are that you stop law-abiding citizens from using it as self-defense against criminals,” Brown said. “If experts can use those firearms to defend other people in society, why shouldn’t you, or I, or the single mother who wants to defend her kids?”
According to the FBI, in 2017, handguns were involved in the majority (64%) of U.S. gun murders. Rifles – the category that includes many guns commonly referred to as “assault weapons”– were involved in just 4% of homicides.
However, six of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history happened this decade. On average, one mass shooting—defined as an event in which four or more people are killed or injured with a gun—happens every day in our country. When assault-style weapons are used, often with high capacity clips, shootings result in 155 percent more people shot and 47 percent more people killed, according to Every Town For Gun Safety.
“We want to make it harder for bad guys to get guns. That’s just flat, common sense,” said John Morse.
Morse is a former Colorado Senator who represented southern Colorado. He was voted out of office in 2013 after supporting the passage of tougher gun laws.
“Assault weapons are meant for the battlefield and maybe for a few police officers on the street. When I was with the Colorado Springs Police Department, we had to write a memo every time we took that gun out of its rack, unless we were taking it out to qualify with it. That’s how dangerous that gun was,” said Morse. “Assault weapons should be banned without question.”
One reason many are calling for an assault weapons ban is because our nation actually had one before.
The Clinton administration, with the backing of a Democratic congress, passed an “assault weapons” ban in 1994, officially called the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act. However, it expired just ten years later.
“It wasn’t renewed because there was a Republican congress and a Republican presidency,” said Trent Steidley, Professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver.
“The Federal Assault Weapons ban was passed with a Democratic congress and a Democratic president. Ten years go by, the Democrats lose control of the federal government. The Republicans were not interested in picking it up so they just let it expire,” he said.
David Kopel is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Denver who also provided more insight into the ban’s expiration.
“One reason it wasn’t renewed was because when congress enacted the ban in 1994, it told the Department of Justice to conduct studies on the effectiveness of the ban. And they hired a left-leaning but high-quality think-tank — the Urban Institute — to do several studies. And in the end, there was no evidence that this law was saving any lives,” said Kopel.
However, Morse feels the ban did save lives.
“I think absolutely it helped. Although I also think the gun manufacturers did an amazing job of getting around it. So those that wrote it didn’t do a good job of actually banning assault weapons,” said Morse.
So did the assault weapons ban save lives or not? According to the numbers, the views are mixed.
According to a National Institute of Justice study, assault weapons were only used in roughly 8% of violent crimes from 1994-2004. That number hasn’t risen since.
However, some believe the effects from the ban were minimized because assault-style weapons and large capacity magazines produced before 1994 were grandfathered in, and those who owned them could still sell them after the ban. Some gun companies even ramped up production in the months leading up to the ban, creating a surplus of assault style weapons for the open market. Also, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, two-thirds of the 8.5 million AR- or AK- style rifles that entered the civilian market between 1990 and 2012 became available after 2004.
There are also researchers like Louis Klarevas, a professor at Columbia University Teachers College who wrote Rampage Nation. His book examines U.S. mass shootings. His research claims that deaths from mass shootings dropped 25 percent under the ban. And deaths from assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in those shootings dropped 54 percent.
Since 1994, Colorado has certainly had its fair share of tragic shootings, including the Planned Parenthood shooting in 2016 that killed three people and injured nine others.
“And you know you see a lot of these situations that happen around the country, but to have it happen on your home turf, you know it really affects all of you,” said Jake Skifstad.
Skifstad is a former Colorado Springs police officer who was a first responder during the Planned Parenthood shooting.
“I’ll never forget that day, going down there and knowing his weapon of choice was a rifle. And I’ll never forget responding down there that day, those officers on-scene, absolutely true heroes, putting their lives on the line for strangers. They had no protection against that threat, that rifle,” he said.
Gunmen with military-style rifles are a realistic threat that officers need to be ready to face. Skifstad feels all law enforcement needs to be prepared for the worst.
“I do think it’s fair,” he said. “Because we take an oath to protect our community from whatever threat …it could be a handgun. It could be a rifle. It could be a vehicle. It could be a knife, a bomb, all kinds of different stuff. Law enforcement is going to respond to all of those.”
The El Paso County Sheriff feels the same way.
“It is the changing nature of the business, that we have to be confronted with that. We train for it and prepare for it,” said El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder.
Elder has been an outspoken supporter of the Second Amendment, despite the fact that one in five law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty from 2016-2017 were killed with an assault-style weapon.
“So the question is, does the fact that the second amendment of the constitution trump safety of public law enforcement? Absolutely it does,” said Elder.
“Our job is to protect people’s rights that are afforded under the second amendment and under the remaining amendments of the constitution.”
And it’s the second amendment – the belief that anyone has a right to keep and bear arms, despite the type of guns – that justifies owning assault style weapons for many in Colorado.
“We think that it just gives the citizens its right to defend themselves in any manner they please,” said Rex Kehrli, president of RK Gun Shows.
“The right to self-defense, and the big reason is to protect us from a tyrannical government,” said Robert Holmes of Whistling Pines Gun Club.
Tragedies, key elections mean spikes in Colorado firearm sales
By: Stephanie Sierra
Gun ownership has more than doubled across the U.S. in the past decade. So where does Colorado fit into that picture? And how do we stack up to our neighboring states?
There’s a lot of factors that drive gun ownership to ebb and flow. For many motivation for purchase is based on one of the following: protection, sport, or it’s a requirement for work.
Reporter Stephanie Sierra went to a gun show hosted by “RK Shows” in October. Many of the attendees she spoke said:
- “I am a gun enthusiast, I just love them”
- “I use it for target shooting”
- “It’s like legos for adults”
- “I want to be able to protect my family”
- “I’m looking for a scope for a rifle”
The proof is documented with the most recent FBI data that shows a steady rise in firearm background checks performed in Colorado. Notice the graph below, it shows a steady increase in registered firearm background checks from 2009 to 2019.
Note: (2019 data isn’t complete yet)
It’s impossible to know how many guns have been sold in the state, as a registry of that sort is prohibited under state law.
But it is clear this data shows a nationwide trend: ownership spikes following mass tragedies and major elections.
“People were afraid that they were going to lose their ability to buy a gun,” said UCCS Political Science Professor, Rick Radabaugh.
Radabaugh said it’s described as “a trend of fear” that encouraged sales to peak during these years. The first most notable spike happening in 2008 following the election of then-President Barack Obama.
“He was the best salesman for guns,” said Radabaugh. “Over 90 million guns were purchased when he was elected.”
That jump wasn’t just seen in Colorado, but across the nation.
“It’s increased substantially over the past 10 years,” said Robert Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club in Colorado Springs. “Usually after a major shooting, people think maybe I should get a handgun to defend myself.”
We saw a spike following the Aurora theatre shooting in July of 2012. And another, a mere five months later, after the massacre that tore through Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“We saw [a big spike after] Sandy Hook happened,” Holmes said.
In 2013, gun regulation passed in Colorado expanding background checks and banning high-capacity magazines. That resulted in another spike of both firearm background checks and gun vendor sales across the state.
“What that shows me is that Americans do feel that their second amendment rights are threatened,” said Rex Kehrli, President of RK Shows. “And they feel like their political leaders will go too far.”
Kehrli said his show saw another big spike in 2015, following the Planned Parenthood shooting in Colorado Springs.
The trend followed each year there was a major tragedy or election. That is illustrated next with a jump in 2016, when Hillary Clinton won the Democratic nomination for President. The most recent spike came following the election of Gov. Jared Polis.
The trends not seen just here in Colorado but across the nation. Take our neighboring states for example. Despite the difference in population, the same spikes are noticeable each year in Arizona, Utah, and Wyoming.
But recently, the number of firearm background checks has taken a downward turn during President Trump’s administration.
“There’s no immediate threat to our guns right now,” said Holmes.
“Sales are considerably down from what they were three, four, five years ago,” said Paul Paradis, owner of Paradise Sales. “In talking to dealers and suppliers nationwide, there’s a downward trend right now.”
But, as we’ve seen before, that’s likely to change as we inch closer to another heated election.
“It’s a very uncertain future for the gun industry right now,” Holmes said.
Another huge factor facing local gun shops is competition from online vendors and auction sites. To put it in perspective, Paradis said 30 percent of his sales processed in the last year are from online vendors.
As a post note, along with firearm background checks, the number of gun-related deaths in Colorado has also steadily increased over the past decade. More than half of those deaths in recent years are attributed to suicide.
The same trend is true nationwide. According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related suicides have steadily increased in nearly every state over the past decade.
How are children in Colorado affected by gun violence?
By: Brynn Carman
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – In the United States, shootings were the second leading cause of death for children, according to a 2016 study by the New England Journal of Medicine. Car accidents came in at number one and cancer number three.
Colorado also had the highest increase in the teen suicide rate in our country in recent years. And in our state, one of every two suicides involved a firearm in 2017. That’s according to the Colorado Health Institute.
The number of people 17 years old and younger killed by guns in Colorado has trended upwards since 2014, when six kids in that age range were victims of murder by a gun. In 2018, 12 young people were killed. That’s according to analysis by the Denver Post.
And then there’s accidental child shootings. From 2014 through 2019 there have been six deadly incidents involving kids under the age of 12 in Colorado. The most recent one happened here in Colorado Springs.
Last October, 2-year-old Lohki Bloom killed himself after finding a loaded gun in his house. Now his babysitter, and other people in our community are speaking out about how we can protect our children from guns.
“It was just sad, it was just mind-blowing,” says Miranda Hobbs, Lohki’s former babysitter.
Miranda Hobbs is still in disbelief about what happened last October.
“We saw him the day before, and the next thing you know he’s gone just like that,” says Hobbs.
It was a cold Sunday evening when deputies in El Paso County responded to a shooting. Bloom was inside his house when he found a loaded gun that was left out, and he pulled the trigger.
“He was just sweet, especially when he would wake up and in the morning and you’d give him his bottle and he would watch his cartoons and he was cute,” says Hobbs.
Shortly after the accident, Miranda welcomed a daughter. And now as a new mom, safety is a priority.
“I don’t really have weapons or anything like that laying around, but if I did you wouldn’t know it because they wouldn’t be out and about or near kids and that just wouldn’t happen,” said Hobbs.
According to the Giffords Law Center, 4.6 million children live in homes in the United States with loaded unlocked firearms. Nicola Smith with Moms Demand Action says that’s unacceptable.
“We put plugs in the wall to protect children from putting their fingers in the wall, we move the parts away from the front stove so they can’t pull it over,” says Smith. “We have cords that we put out of the way so kids can’t get themselves tangled in cords, it’s just sensible things we do in our homes to keep our children safe. Why would you not lock up a firearm when there are children in the home. I think it’s absolutely necessary.”
Massachusetts is the only state that requires guns always be stored with a lock. There are a few other states that require locked storage in some situations, but Colorado is not one of them.
Many responsible gun owners at places like Whistling Pines Gun Club and around the state say they do everything they can to ensure safety, but that there are enough gun laws.
“I mean a self-defense firearm doesn’t do you any good if it’s disassembled and separated from the ammunition and locked up with one part in one room and the other part in the other room,” says Dudley Brown with Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. “That doesn’t really help to defend you from a home invader for instance.”
No matter where you stand on the issue, any death of a child is one too many.
“I believe it’s negligent for a parent not to teach a child a little bit about firearms,” says Brown. “Why? Because it’s forbidden fruit and that means most kids are going to want to try and touch it.”
“No one wants to take away anyone’s firearms, we just want to live in a community where we can all live and be responsible and I think if you have a firearm there is some responsibility that goes alongside it,” says Smith.
When it comes to accidental shooting deaths involving children, twenty-one states, including Colorado have enacted laws allowing prosecution. This could bring charges against adults who fail to safely store their loaded guns, especially when kids pick them up and use them. But of course, that is something that’s decided case by case.
Lohki’s mom, Melissa Adamson pleaded guilty to a felony count of child abuse related to his death. She faces 16 to 26 years at a sentencing hearing scheduled for December 2.
The debate over open carry
By: Chase Golightly
Colorado is one of 31 states that allow open carry. Without a permit in the Centennial state, gun owners can display their firearms on their hip or over their shoulders as long as they’re adhering to rules placed at businesses.
However, there is an increasing trend in the United States of brick and mortar stores banning them on their property.
Walking the streets of downtown Colorado Springs, you may notice signs like this:
Shops, bars, and restaurants are all asking their patrons not to open carry in their store. Richard Skorman, the owner of Poor Richard’s, is one of those who has this sign.
“It’s not an appropriate place to have an open-carry gun because there are so many kids in our business,” Skorman said.
However, mom and pop shops aren’t the only stores saying no to open carry. Walmart, Kroger, and Target are now banning open carry in all of their stores.
Some gun supporters we spoke with believe this goes against their Second Amendment rights, saying they should not be limited on where they can carry.
David Kopel, an adjunct professor of constitutional law, says the second amendment has nothing to do with open carry.
“You might say it goes against the spirit of the Second Amendment,” Kopel said. “But the Second Amendment and the Constitution, in general, are mainly limitations on government.”
It’s simple: since stores are on private property, they can set the conditions for their customers.
“Because Walmart and Kroger have the same rights we do, to say, ‘if you want to come onto my property, you can have a concealed gun, but I don’t want you to wear it openly,’” explained Kopel.
Walmart made the decision to ban open carry after 22 people were killed by an armed man in August at one of their stores in El Paso, Texas. Walmart’s CEO released a statement explaining the company’s decision, saying in part:
“We hope that everyone will understand the circumstances that led to this new policy and will respect the concerns of their fellow shoppers and our associates.”
It’s an effort made to make customers feel safer.
Trent Steidley, an expert in criminology and sociology at the University of Denver, says Walmart’s decision is a smart one.
“They are genuinely worried about public safety and they think this is a policy that’s useful for protecting their customers,” Steidley said.
Steidley also says it was a smart public relations move.
“If it is the case that Walmart or Kroger are thinking of this as an effort to make their places look more peaceful or more appealing to people, it is a very rational business interest,” Steidley said.
However, Walmart says they have also had other issues with open carry in their stores. The company’s CEO says there have been several instances of people open carrying in their stores to make more of a political statement, rather than to protect themselves.
“There are certainly people who carry a gun, they don’t have a political dog in the fight, they just want to protect themselves,” said Steidley. “But I think there are people trying to make a political statement.”
An instance of this happened just shortly after the ban in Texas — another state that allows open carry. A man was arrested and charged with making a terrorist threat after he walked into a Walmart carrying a rifle. An employee pulled the fire alarm and the store was swarmed by police. Officers say the man wanted to see what would happen.
Then, another incident happened in the open carry state of Kentucky. Video captured a man carrying a handgun. Again, police were called out after a customer called 911. He wasn’t charged by police but he was permanently banned from the store.
These incidents were reported to authorities out of fear after just seeing a firearm. That’s one of the biggest reasons why Skorman doesn’t allow open carry in his Colorado Springs shops.
“It’s really about the comfort of our customers,” Skorman says. “If customers want this to happen, that’s what we do.”
While it seems people have turned against open carry, concealed carry is actually expanding in the U.S., according to Steidley. He says now more than ever states are allowing concealed carry — whether it’s with a permit or not.
Firearms, money & politics
By: Heather Skold
$10,086,089 — That’s how much gun control and gun rights groups collectively contributed to federal politicians in 2018.
Judging by the numbers exclusively, it’s a topic that generates a lot of strong opinions.
Government watchdog Opensecrets tallies gun control groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Giffords PAC, as contributing $5,486,237 to federal candidates and parties in 2018. Conversely: gun rights groups, like the NRA and Gun Owners of America, contributed a bit less at $4,599,852 in 2018.
So, how did Colorado politicians profit in 2018?
- Rep. Jason Crow (D) of the 6th Congressional District, got $36,982.
- Rep. Joseph Neguse (D) of the 2nd Congressional District, got $2,000.
- Rep. Perlmutter (D) of the 7th Congressional District, got $6,800.
- Rep. Diana Degette (D) of the 1st Congressional District, got $6,250.
- Sen. Michael Bennet (D), got $18,671.
All received money from gun control groups.
Colorado Republicans received money from gun rights groups in 2018, according to Opensecrets. But they got more money than Democrats did.
Former Rep. Mike Coffman (R) of the 6th Congressional District, got $28,085.
Rep. Scott Tipton (R) of the 3rd Congressional District, got $13,476.
Rep. Doug Lamborn (R) of the 5th Congressional District, got $3,500.
Rep. Ken Buck (R) of the 4th Congressional District, got $3,000.
Senator Cory Gardner (R) got $63,000.
In sum, Colorado Democrats received $77,503; Colorado Republicans received $111,061 in 2018.
But, does the money affect how politicians vote? According to UCCS Political Science Professor, Josh Dunn, the answer is no.
“Interest groups give to office-holders who already agree with them,” said Dunn. “There’s very little evidence to indicate they’re buying votes. It’s not really shaping legislative behavior.”
Rewind back to February 2019. The U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 8, requiring background checks for all firearms sales and most transfers, including those at gun shows.
It passed the House 240 to 190, largely on party lines.
Colorado Representatives voted how you might think: all our state’s Congressional Republicans voted against it; Colorado’s Congressional Democrats voted for it.
Upon closer inspection, however, of the eight Republicans nationally who voted in favor of H.R. 8, three Republican Representatives were from Florida: Vern Buchanan, Brian Mast, and Mario Dias-Balart. All three received money from the NRA (Buchanan, $4,950 in 2016; Mast $1,000 in 2018; Dias-Balart $2,000 and $3,000 in 2016 and 2018, respectively).
No doubt, all three Florida Representatives were influenced by the shootings at the Pulse Nightclub and at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“If there’s a position that’s going to put you deeply at odds with your constituents, very often what you’ll see the representatives and senators do is vote with their constituents rather than with an interest group — even if that interest group has given them money,” said Dunn.