The Dangers of Driving through Denver

by Dr. Paul Gallant & David B. Kopel

August 5, 1998. More by Kopel on state and local gun controls

Packing the family in your automobile, to set out across our state for summer vacation? Suppose that your driver's license was issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles office in Colorado Springs. If you got stopped in Denver for speeding, the police would confiscate your car, since your license wasn't issued by the City of Denver. A couple weeks later, after the police and the Denver City Attorney finished their paperwork, they might give you your car back, after you proved that your license from Colorado Springs was valid. Absurd?

Not to Denver's piratical city government. The Denver City Council, by a 10-2 vote, has ratified the continuation of the city's property confiscation ordinance. According to the ordinance, the police are supposed to confiscate cars containing any concealed weapon--regardless of whether the owner can show his concealed weapon permit. Later, the owner has the burden of proving in court that his possession of the gun was legal, and if the court agrees, the owner gets his car back and his gun back--after spending thousands of dollars on an attorney, and being deprived of his car and his gun for weeks.

If the City Attorney is in a good mood, he might let the confiscation victim have the gun and car back without going to court. Even so, the property owner will have been unjustifiably deprived of his property for days or weeks.

To make matters even more unfair, Colorado state law specifically states that a person can carry a concealed gun in his car without a permit when his is traveling. So a family that lives in Limon, is going to Steamboat Springs for vacation, and passes through I-70 in Denver doesn't legally need a concealed weapon permit. But the Denver confiscation ordinance just ignores the state law, and orders police to confiscate the vacationing family's car and gun.

While firearm-prohibitionists--like the supporters of Denver City Councilwoman Cathy Reynolds--are always claiming that they want to "treat guns like cars," they don't necessarily really mean it. Now it's true that Denver's Reynolds-backed confiscation law does treat guns like cars—both get confiscated on the spot, regardless of the owner's innocence. (The Denver ordinance specifically states that the owner's innocence is irrelevant.)

But the "treat cars like guns" theory gets discarded as soon as it might interfere with banning guns. Have you heard of an outcry for legislation banning the sale, manufacture, and possession of Jaguars, after some poor unfortunate soul was run down by a drunk driver, seated behind the wheel of one of these killing machines? Or, how about a call to ban Corvettes, after one of them was used by a pair of bank-robbers making good their getaway?

Punishing the offender, instead of banning the objects used to facilitate the crime, is the logical thing to do. We crack down on drunk drivers, not on automobiles.

But in Denver, various rifles and shotguns which have improper cosmetic features have been banned as "assault weapons." The guns don't function any differently from other guns, but they do look different, and so the hysterically ignorant Denver City Council banned them in 1989. Not surprisingly, Mayor Wellington Webb enthusiastically supports both the gun ban and the confiscation law; at least he's consistent in his contempt for civil liberties.

Thus, the father who wants to protect his vacationing family from two-legged or four-legged predators is caught between a rock and a hard place. The right of self-defense may be most urgently needed when a person is in an unfamiliar area, such as one of Denver's crime-ridden districts, caught very suddenly and very unexpectedly, right smack dab in the middle of one of a vacationland's unfamiliar "hot-spots"! But even if he fully complies with the law, the Denver police can confiscate his car and his gun, letting him prove his innocence later in court.

"Don't leave home without it!" It's not just the catchy ending to a once-familiar credit card commercial. To many honest, responsible Americans, especially those who have to drive through Denver, those five little words are the embodiment of a painful moral dilemma.

Next year, the Colorado legislature should pass "pre-emption" legislation similar to the laws in over 40 other states, specifying that all gun laws will be made at the state level, not the local. The Denver government's flagrant abuse of the rights of every traveler in the State of Colorado shows that the city's leadership is incapable of exercising the power to regulate firearms in a responsible manner. It is time for the legislature to confiscate Denver's often-misused power to abuse law-abiding gun owners.

Optometrist Paul Gallant is a Research Associate with the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado,; Attorney David B. Kopel is the research director of the Independence Institute and award-winning author of several books on firearm issues.

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