By Ernest Gurulé
A new Denver city ordinance most certainly got the attention of many, especially gun rights advocates. The new law voted in by Denver City Council banned the carrying of concealed weapons in any city park or any city facility, including those where the city only rents space.
The council’s 9-3 vote is part of Mayor Michael Hancock’s plan to make the city safer from gun violence. The new ordinance was signed a week later by Hancock. But until signage is posted at any park or building where the new law applies, enforcement penalties will not be imposed.
When penalties for violating the new ordinance begin, first offenses will carry a $50 fine, but costs can rise to $999 for all subsequent offenses. Council had initially included jail time, but that portion of the ordinance was dropped to make it compliant with state laws.
Colorado state law on obtaining a concealed carry permit requires the person applying to be at least 21 years old and a resident of the county in which the permit is requested. The concealed carry permit and valid photo identification must be in the person’s possession each time the weapon is carried. The permit is not required when a person is in a private automobile or other private transportation.
Council members voting for the ban were council members Kendra Black, Jolon Clark, Stacie Gilmore, Christopher Herndon, Chris Hinds, Paul Kashman, Robin Kniech and Debbie Ortega. Opposing the new gun ban were council members Candi CdeBaca, Kevin Flynn and Jamie Torres. Councilmember Amanda P. Sandoval was attending an out of state conference and did not cast a vote.
Flynn argued against the measure saying it was “an empty vessel.”
“Not (only) will it do nothing to improve public safety as we face this increase in gun violence, but it might actually result in more thefts of firearms from cars parked at city parks,” he said, since gun owners may store their weapons in their vehicles while in a park.
CdeBaca’s opposition to the ordinance, she said, was based on there being no data on permitted guns being used in crimes, no data on permitted guns being a problem in or on city owned property, and the potential of weapons left in cars where “they are more likely to be stolen or used in a crime.”
The District 9 councilwoman also had another familiar reason for her no vote. “Imagine someone calling the cops on your family in a park,” she argued, adding that having something tucked into their pants, including a toy or even an Ipad that could be mistaken for a weapon, could lead to a tragic incident.
“Think about which families will be approached this way … this policy will be used against (us),” she said. “We don’t have to go very far back in history to see the costs of use of excessive force.”
CdeBaca, perhaps council’s most outspokenly progressive member, also denounced the measure as being unconstitutional.
“While banning guns overall would be ideal,” she said, “we live in a country where it is a citizen’s right to bear arms.”
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann approved of the new ordinance.
In a brief comment, McCann said, “I support our gun laws.”
Denver Police took no official position on the gun ban, saying only, “DPD trusts that people will follow the new ordinance.”
Denver’s parks include 270 urban parks and 14,000 acres of Denver Mountain Parks, said Parks and Recreation Parks Ranger Assistant Director Eliza Hunholz. DPR took no official position on the new law, but Hunholz said the department will strictly enforce it once signage is installed. But in stating a position on the new ordinance, DPR did acknowledge one of the most recent incidents of deadly gun violence.
“DPR staff wishes to acknowledge the senseless violence that recently occurred in Uvalde, Texas. With that in mind, we recommend our focus on keeping parks safe and clean.”
Assistant City Attorney Erica Rogers, in explaining the city’s position on the new ordinance, said that neither gun rights nor the character of concealed carry permit holders were part of the calculus in drafting this measure.
“The goal is to increase safety in those sensitive city locations by reducing the number of firearms present at any given time,” the statement read.
The ordinance precludes penalties for active duty military personnel. Flynn, in a safety committee hearing on the measure, suggested that the ordinance was being introduced without council seeing any data indicating the number of gun incidents in parks involving concealed carry permit holders.
“What is the problem we’re trying to solve with this (ordinance) if concealed handgun permit holders have not been the source of any of the firearms incidents in the city?” he said. “We have a lot of firearms in the city, but I’m not aware of any caused by this particular subset of a population.”
The city attorneys’ office said that no such data is recorded by the police department. While there have been shootings, including fatal shootings in Denver parks, the city’s neighbor to the east has experienced a dramatic number of incidents over the last several months.
In November six teenagers were shot at Nome Park in Aurora just blocks away from their high school.
Also in Aurora, in March, a 17-year-old male was shot in the leg at Red Tailed Hawk Park. Denver is also approaching the 10-year anniversary of the shooting death of Denver Police officer Celina Hollis.
Hollis was fatally shot on June 24, 2012, while attempting to break up a fight at the Denver City Park “Jazz in the Park” celebration. A then 22-year-old man, Rollin Oliver, was charged and later convicted of the crime. Oliver pleaded guilty to second degree murder and was sentenced to 26 years in state prison.