Colorado DA Refuses to Prosecute Flood Victims for Private Firearm Transfers

Posted on October 4, 2013

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Back in February and March, NRA-ILA warned that Colorado's House Bill 1229, criminalizing the private transfer of firearms, was overbroad, and would unduly burden and ensnare law-abiding citizens. Lo and behold, less than seven months after Gov. Hickenlooper signed HB 1229, some victims of September's devastating floods are fearful of being prosecuted under the new law.

According to an article published in the Greeley Tribune of Greeley, Colo., residents of Weld County, Colo. contacted Weld District Attorney Ken Buck with concerns that if they were to store their firearms with family or friends while cleaning or rebuilding their flood ravaged homes they could face prosecution for an illegal firearms transfer. While the new statute contains very limited exceptions for things like "bona fide gift[s] between immediate family members," it does not exempt the temporary transfer of a firearm for safekeeping at someone else's property.

To assuage the fears of his constituents, in a September 30th press release, Buck announced that he will not prosecute anyone experiencing such hardship. Buck is quoted in the press release as stating, "It would be unconscionable to require those affected by the floodwaters to obtain a background check… And it would be equally unconscionable to prosecute them under these circumstances. This is an example of the consequences of laws that are overbroad and not well thought out and illustrates how such laws can harm residents' rights."

On the same date, Buck sent a letter to the police chiefs of Weld County and Weld Sheriff John Cooke, alerting them to his position. The letter makes clear to the law enforcement agencies, "the District Attorney's Office will not accept for prosecution any allegation that an individual failed to obtain a background check prior to transferring a firearm under these emergency circumstances." In response, Sheriff Cooke, who has joined with 54 other Sheriffs in a lawsuit challenging Colorado's new gun laws, told the Greeley Tribune regarding the flood victims, "They want to get (their guns), and they're going to give them to a friend, and to think that Colorado law just made those people criminals by giving them to a friend without getting a background check victimizes them all over again... It's just callous and wrong."

The recent experience in Colorado serves as another example, along with that of New York's SAFE Act, of the effects of hastily drafted and impulsive legislation that fails to consider the realities faced by the gun owning public. If there is a silver lining to these attacks on gun owners, it is the willingness of local law enforcement, as in Colorado, New York and Illinois, to stand up to their state governments by fighting, or refusing to enforce, unjust and unconstitutional laws, in order to protect the rights of their constituents.

We applaud the words and deeds of District Attorney Buck and Sheriff Cooke, and encourage other law enforcement officials in those areas of Colorado affected by flooding to follow suit in offering their assurance that gun owners facing similar hardship will not face prosecution.

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