By Ernest Gurulé
It will soon be two months since Denver City Council voted to ban the carrying of concealed weapons in the city’s parks. While there may be residual anger from gun rights advocates, the executive director of Denver Parks and Recreation says the new ordinance seems to be working.
“We have received very few complaints,” said Allegra “Happy” Haynes. “I have been quite surprised.” Haynes is a multi-decade veteran of community politics, having served both as a member of Denver City Council and in various other city government positions. Nonetheless, she said, “feedback can be slow.”
The 9-3 vote to ban concealed carry weapons in city parks—also public buildings—was taken May 16. But something else happened a couple of time zones to the east a few weeks later that was the opposite of Denver’s gun policy.
It was also the impetus for a half silly, half serious inter-county dustup. On June 16, the United States Supreme Court voted to strike down a New York law that restricted the carrying of concealed firearms in public for self-defense. The 6-3 vote reversed a lower court ruling that had limited who could carry a concealed weapon in public.
While the ban on concealed weapons has so far generated little fuss across the city’s 260 parks system, some of which are not even in Denver, one particular city property has sparked a bit of tension, said Haynes. Daniels Park is a thousand-acre parcel of land in Douglas County that serves as a habitat for a herd of bison and also an exclusive reserve for use by Indigenous people.
In recent years the herd, a fixture in the park since 1938, has been regularly culled with animals being returned to tribal lands across the West. The council vote banning concealed carry weapons in Denver parks and public buildings coupled with the Supreme Court ruling lifting concealed carry restrictions may have been the perfect confluence for a tempest in a teapot tussle in a neighboring county.
Douglas County Commissioner George Teal, a staunch Second Amendment proponent, lashed out at the Denver guns-in-the park ordinance, suggesting his county should simply take ownership of Daniels Park via eminent domain.
But another commissioner, Lora Thomas, wrote in her newsletter that Teal’s ire was essentially a waste of time and resources. Despite Teal and one other fellow commissioners’ desire to commandeer the park away from Denver, it turns out it would be a costly undertaking.
Market value for the plot of land that has been part of Denver’s park system for a century is valued at approximately $800 million. Since the recent Douglas County Commissioners meeting in which the issue was discussed, there has been nothing more shared with elected counterparts in Denver.
The mid-May vote banning concealed carry weapons in Denver parks, said Haynes, seems to be supported by most people who use the parks.
“We’ve engaged and gotten viewpoints,” she said.
Penalties for violating the new ordinance, to date, have not been set. But Haynes said enforcement would likely be along the lines of seatbelt violations.
“We are all required to wear seatbelts,” she said, “but we don’t have enforcement people looking at violators.” Enforcement, Haynes added, “comes along with something else that has occurred that may be a violation.”
Haynes, who was supportive of the council vote on concealed carry, said Denver’s parks are among the best in the country.
While there is no definitive way of measuring just how many people use the parks annually, the city’s effort is to keep them in good shape and provide the amenities people expect them to have, she said.