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Denver activists worry ghost gun law includes new penalties for protesters

Posted at 4:33 PM, Jan 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-08 01:12:31-05

DENVER – Several Denver activists are concerned about a portion of the city's new ghost gun law that addresses crowd dispersal techniques used by police officers during protests.

On Tuesday, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock signed the bill into law, banning ghost guns throughout the city.

“We had a loophole and unfortunately, it meant folks that shouldn't be allowed to have a gun were able to get one,” said Denver City Attorney Kristin Bronson.

Under Denver’s new law, ghost gun owners could end up with a $1,000 fine.

“It could also possibly be punishable of up to 300 days in jail,” Bronson said. “There are a number of other cities and states that have passed a ghost gun legislation similar to ours. We were really inspired by the Biden administration's announcement in the spring, that they were going to be rolling out a number of initiatives to try to close the ghost gun loophole and to try to really tackle the problem of trafficking and ghost guns.”

Denver's city council passed the ghost gun bill with a 10-1 vote. Candi CdeBaca was the only councilmember to vote against the legislation.

“The pieces of the legislation that weren't talked about were the pieces about reorganizing the code, the weapons code…basically criminalizing youth a little bit more.” CdeBaca said. “I think this emerged from the protests. People had umbrellas or they had their airsoft guns or they had other things to protect themselves from the pepper spray that was being deployed by the police officers, and now that bill made all of that a crime.”

Bronson says the ordinance was included as a way to update the code.

“When we came to the conclusion we wanted to close the ghost gun loophole, we took a really fresh look at our dangerous weapons ordinance,” Bronson said. “There were some outdated language. There were some things that we wanted to reorganize to make it, first of all, a little more readable, but also more consistent with current law.”

The portion of the legislation CdeBaca and Bronson referred to can be found of page six of the law and reads:

“It shall be unlawful for any person, except for a law enforcement officer or a person acting with valid authorization from the city, to possess on their person… Any item, weapon, or noxious substance with the intent to use the weapon, item, or 22 noxious substance for the purpose of defeating crowd dispersal measures.”

Activists Lindsay Minter says she is also concerned about the inclusion of this language.

“I think it was sneaky, and I think it directly impacts how we as protesters and activists and organizers defend ourselves when we're standing up for our rights,” she said.

Minter says the word "item" gives officers a lot of discretion.

“I think when a law is unclear that it has more potential to be abused,” she said.

During one protest, a rubber bullet knocked out one of Minter’s teeth. She says some items, like umbrellas, serve as protection for peaceful protesters.

“Our allies, specifically our white allies and non-persons of colors, have decided to protect Black and brown bodies with these umbrellas," Minter said. "The Parasol Patrol has protected us with their umbrellas from mace and pepper spray."

Activist Karen Ashmore was one of the protesters who used her umbrella as protection.

“I use it sometimes as a, as a barrier between aggressive people, which could be anybody from the Proud Boys to law enforcement,” Ashmore said.

She says she’s concerned about the inclusion of this clause in ghost gun legislation.

“I'm certainly in favor of gun control and the ghost gun bill, but this clause that was added on is not right,” Ashmore said.

Bronson says the language in the bill already existed but is meant to address items like baseball bats, not umbrellas.

“I would certainly say that an item being used strictly in a defensive posture as a way of defending yourself, I don't really necessarily see that that is the aim of this ordinance," Bronson said.

But Ashmore and Minter say the inclusion of language addressing protests in what seems to be an unrelated bill sews more seeds of distrust between the government and the people.