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Former DA Has a Warning for Gun-Owning Parents

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Today is the last day of Colorado’s legislative session, and while a bill banning the manufacture and sale of so-called assault weapons no longer poses a threat to the Second Amendment rights of residents (at least for this session), former (and hopefully future) District Attorney George Brauchler tells Bearing Arms Cam & Co there are still plenty of bad bills that will become terrible laws.

“I wish he had enjoyed more successes on Second Amendment bills that showed up in this legislative session. I’ve lived in Colorado for more than half a century, and I’ve never seen anything like this. I keep telling myself every year ‘well this is it, this is the high water mark. They’ve done all they can do to the Second Amendment, and they keep finding ways to keep digging at it.”

When it comes to the gun ban, which was pulled from consideration from a Senate committee at the request of one of the sponsors, Brauchler believes Colorado Gov. Jared Polis was pulling some strings behind the scenes. 

“I appreciate all the efforts of the 19 members in the 65-member House of Representatives and the near superminority in the Senate,” Braucher said of the Republican minority. “I think these are hard chargers, the Spartans at the Hot Gates, you know? But at the end of the day they could not have derailed this thing. It really did, in my opinion, take the governor reaching out and saying ‘don’t do this.'” 

Polis has already signed several other gun control bills into law this session, including one mandating the use of specific merchant category codes for gun stores, but an “assault weapon” ban may have been too much of a political hot potato for the governor. 

The bill’s sponsors have already vowed to try again next year, and Brauchler says he expects that won’t be the only gun control bill to be introduced. In fact, in a recent column for the Colorado Springs Gazette, Brauchler warned that gun-owning parents are likely the next target of anti-2A legislators; pointing to the recent prosecution of James and Jennifer Crumbley in Michigan, who were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for allowing their teenage son to get ahold of a pistol and use to shoot several students at Oxford High School. 

Colorado’s homicide statutes decrease in severity from first to second-degree murder to manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide. Our manslaughter charge is based on recklessness, which is similar — but not an exact match — for Michigan’s “gross negligence.”

The significant difference between our laws lies in Michigan’s ability to prosecute someone for failure to perform a legal duty. Michigan allows prosecution of a person who “willfully neglected or refused to perform [a legal] duty and [his / her] failure to perform it was grossly negligent to human life.” That fits the Crumbleys. As the elected district attorney told the jury during trial, the parents were “not on trial for what [their] son did,” but “for what [they] did and for what [they] didn’t do.”

This is the change we should expect next year’s Legislature to enact, because it simultaneously attacks two things the progressives in power dislike: guns and parents.

Gov. Polis and Democrats in the Legislature have continued a relentless march toward making gun ownership by the law-abiding either completely illegal, or so risky that many will choose not to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms. At the same time, they have done nothing to discourage or punish criminals with guns.

Brauchler was involved in several prosecutions of related to mass shootings in Colorado, from Columbine to the Aurora theater shooting, and he says that in every case, “legal theories predicated on parental failure to intervene to prevent gun violence would have been irrelevant.

Columbine: the parents immediately lawyered up and provided no statement to law enforcement. The weapons obtained by the evil killers were obtained either illegally (the TEC DC-9), and the wrongdoers went to prison, or legally (the long rifles), by the girlfriend of one of the murderers. Nobody knew what they intended to do. One shooter hid the homemade pipe bombs, magazines, web gear, and rifle in his locked bedroom. An appropriately nosey parent would have discovered it — my Mom (an appropriately nosey Mom) would have discovered it.

Aurora Theater: everything was purchased legally, including the four firearms, thousands of rounds of ammo, body armor, the building blocks for the apartment bombs, and the “road stars” for puncturing police tires as the killer envisioned them chasing him. He spread the purchases around using different methods of payment to avoid detection.

Arapahoe High School: the 18-year-old killer murdered innocent Clair Davis with a legally purchased shotgun.

Mountain Vista High School: two 16-year-old girls planned a Columbine-style mass shooting that was averted by a nosey parent and DCSO text-a-tip. The would-be killers had made efforts to obtain a handgun illegally, but had thus far failed.

STEM School: the 16- and 18-year-old murderers of hero Kendrick Castillo five years ago broke into a parent’s safe with an axe and crowbar to steal four weapons and ammunition.

Brauchler says Colorado’s current law can deal with parents who are truly negligent or complicit in their children’s crimes, but he’s concerned that the Democrat majority is still going to put parents in more legal jeopardy because it’s an easy way to dissuade would-be gun owners from exercising their Second Amendment rights; alongside other measures like requiring liability insurance and limiting where folks can lawfully carry. 

“They’re playing the long game here, Cam, that we’re not seeing. They know that education about the Constitution and history has been horrific for the past couple of generations. They’re going to create a generation of people, they’re gonna end up being voters, who simply don’t value the Second Amendment and who think, because teachers have told them and society has reinforced it, that guns aren’t necessary and in fact are more a risk than a positive. And that’s how they’re going to attack this right. They don’t need to win today. They’re trying to win 20, 30, 40 years from now.” 

I think that’s right, though the gun control lobby is certainly playing the short-and-medium game as well. So what can gun owners do to play the long game as well? Brauchler says education is the key; not just through formal schooling, but through introducing kids to firearms in a safe and responsible manner. 

“I own handguns, and I take that very seriously. I have a concealed carry license, though I don’t carry all the time. But what I did was take my kids to the range as a responsible parent to kind of demystify them [guns]. And Cam, you and I talked about this a while ago; here’s where that pays off. STEM. Five years ago yesterday was the shooting at STEM. Same day of the week, three days before the end of school. All five of the heroes in that classroom; the people who took action and took on their attackers had familiarity with firearms. Kendrick Castillo, he’d gone out shooting with his dad. He knew all about guns. Josh Jones, Brendan Bialy, all of these folks. The teacher was a concealed carry holder.” 

Brauchler firmly believes that having that knowledge allowed those students and staff member to confront the attackers; not without fear, to be sure, but without being paralyzed by indecision. Colorado’s gun control laws didn’t stop the attack from happening, but the education and training that some in the classroom received allowed them to save lives, even though Castillo was tragically killed while acting in heroic fashion. 

If Braucher’s prediction is borne out next session, Colorado gun owners aren’t just going to be dealing with a sem-auto ban. They could be looking at efforts to make being a gun-owning parent legally dangerous, especially if those parents try to teach their children about the rights and responsibilities of keeping and bearing arms.

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