Next week, at about this time, Sara Warren will finally be given back her gun.
About time, too. The pistol, a Ruger SR9, has been held by authorities since March 28, on which day Warren was involved in a serious automobile accident. “It was pretty bad,” she tells me over the phone from her home in Fort Collins, Colo. “I was slammed against my driver’s side door. I had blunt-force trauma to my kidneys, and I was bleeding internally. When the ambulance came, they grabbed me right away and rushed me to the hospital.” At the time of the collision, Warren had her pistol on the adjacent passenger seat, but afterward moved it into her purse so as not “to alarm anybody.”
At the hospital, the gun was taken by the police for “safekeeping overnight.” “Looking back, they shouldn’t really have done that,” Warren says. “They should have just given it to my husband.” But they didn’t. Instead, authorities took the weapon to the local police station and put it in storage. After Warren was discharged, the gun was kept for a further two weeks. “They wanted to see if I had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol,” Warren says. “And they said they should keep the gun just in case,” while they awaited the results of a blood test.
In and of itself, this delay did not greatly concern her. But she was beginning to worry nonetheless. While the blood test was pending, Warren had made initial inquiries as to how the pistol would be returned, and in doing so “found out about the background checks,” which she now describes as “this ridiculous law.” “At that point,” she recalls, “I knew I wasn’t going to get my gun back. Nothing seemed to be working.”
In 2013, Colorado passed a gun-control law requiring background checks even for private transfers. A quick look at the rules reveal a veritable minefield. Victor Head, the 29-year-old plumber who last year instigated a campaign that successfully recalled his state senator, recently told the Colorado Observer that the background-check provision is “so broad and so non-concise [and] poorly written” that nobody is sure which circumstances require a check and which do not. Fifty-five of Colorado’s 62 sheriffs agree, and have signed a letter announcing that they will not enforce the provision. Authorities in the rural part of the state, too, have tended to cut residents some slack. Last September, the rules ensnared victims of flooding in Weld County who had given neighbors and friends their firearms for safekeeping—behavior that may constitute a “transfer” under the regulation. Local district attorney Ken Buck made a point of refusing to prosecute anybody involved.
Hoping to expedite the return of her gun, Warren offered to bring all of the necessary forms to the police station and, if need be, to pay the $10 transfer fee herself. The powers-that-be declined to take her up on the offer, fretting that they did not know whether this satisfied the rules. Undiscouraged, she offered to bring a friend of hers — a serving police officer and federally licensed firearms dealer from a neighboring county — so that he could manage the exchange. “He was willing to do whatever to help me get my gun back,” Warren says. “But they wouldn’t allow it. That’s the one that bothers me the most. This isn’t just a licensed firearms dealer who can do this sort of background check, but he’s also a fellow police officer. Why wouldn’t they let me bring him in, and pay for the transfer? I just wanted my gun back. It makes no sense.”
Warren is keen to stress that the police officer she has been dealing with is a “good guy.” “But,” she says, “he was threatened by the city attorney’s office. He was told that if he gave anyone’s guns back, he’d be charged.” Every officer involved “thought that it was ridiculous.” Nevertheless, each and every time that she called the police station, she was greeted with the same message: “Sorry, but the city attorney’s office hasn’t decided what to do yet.” Frustrated, she called the CA’s office herself, hoping to inquire directly as to how it was possible that the proper implementation of a law that had gone into effect almost a year ago had not yet been addressed. The CA flatly refused to speak to her. Instead, she was “handled” by “one of the girls in the office” who told her that hers was the “third or fourth” such call that week, and encouraged her indifferently to be “patient.” She told me to “look at the big picture,” Warren says. “She did not care about giving my gun back. She said she’d get to it when she got to it.”