AURORA | Following a pair of mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio over the weekend, Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler on Tuesday unveiled plans to double down on efforts to prosecute convicts who illegally try to buy guns, and called for Colorado lawmakers to bolster some of the state’s gun laws.
In a news release, Brauchler said he plans to ask county commissioners to fund a new prosecutor to handle cases involving the illegal sale of firearms. In the meantime, he’s assigned an existing prosecutor to augment how his office investigates current gun crimes.
“Felons, domestic violence perpetrators, the dangerously mentally ill and others are already prohibited by law from trying to purchase firearms, but a significant number of them do it anyway,” Brauchler said in a statement. “Those cases do not always make it into court. I want to see gun sellers and police working together to more vigorously enforce those existing laws. We are ready, willing, and able to prosecute those cases. We just need to get the cases in our front door.”
Brauchler explained that the majority of people who are denied the ability to purchase a gun at the point of sale due to prior convictions are not charged with a crime. He said the Colorado Bureau of Investigation automatically alerts local law enforcement whenever certain convicts’ applications to purchase guns are denied, but the cases are seldom fully investigated due to a lack of resources.
“CBI will then send a message to local law enforcement, saying this person has illegally tried to buy a gun,” Brauchler said. “But the number of cases that have come to us from that insta-check process is extremely low.”
Brauchler said he wants to coordinate with CBI, local cops, and local gun shop owners to create protocols to more effectively prosecute felons, domestic violence offenders and others caught trying to buy guns they’re legally prevented from owning. For starters, he wants officials to retain application documents, surveillance video and make store clerks’ contact information available upon request to quickly prepare cases.
Brauchler, the Republican district attorney who prosecuted the Aurora theater shooting trial and is currently overseeing the prosecution of the suspected STEM School shooters, also called on state legislators to shore up state laws and sentencing guidelines for felons caught trying to buy guns.
“For those who illegally try to acquire firearms, or successfully acquire them, and for those who illegally provide them to others, there must be the promise of prison, and that prison must be in addition to any other sentence they receive for any other crime they commit,” Brauchler said. “Our gun laws need to have teeth, sharp teeth.”
Aurora state Sen. Rhonda Fields, whose son was a victim of gun violence, said she applauds measures that are aimed at keeping communities safe. She pointed to work done in the state Legislature in recent years, namely the 2013 legislation that required universal background checks, even on private sales, and capping gun magazines at 15 rounds.
In his release, Brauchler said he wants state lawmakers to pursue legislation that stiffens the penalty for convicted felons who illegally possess firearms.
“Under Colorado’s current weak laws, a convicted felon who illegally possesses a firearm can only be convicted of a low-level felony, and is eligible to walk out of court with probation no matter how many times he is convicted. Even lesser penalties exist if a felon illegally attempts to purchase a firearm by lying to a seller,” Brauchler said.
Fields said she and other lawmakers are being cautious when dealing with mental health and gun violence.
“I don’t want to make this leap that say just because you have a mental health disorder we should do something that might stigmatize those people. I don’t want to do that,” she said, adding that she favors making more mental health resources available.
Brauchler, too, called for more mental health resources by calling out flaws with the state’s standing mental health hold law, which allows authorities and medical professionals to evaluate people suspected of exhibiting signs of mental illness for up to three days without their consent. He said people being evaluated on mental health holds often end up in emergency rooms instead of specific mental health facilities.
“The legislature needs to fix our broken and ineffective 72-hour mental health hold law,” he said in a statement. “Its failures do not keep us safer and do nothing to help those most in need,” he said.
Brauchler has repeatedly rebuked the state’s recently passed extreme risk protection order, or “red flag” law, which allows officials to strip weapons from people suspected of posing a risk to themselves or others.
President Donald Trump called for a federal version of the Colorado law this weekend after a pair of gunmen shot and killed more than 30 people in two separate incidents in El Paso, Texas on Aug. 3 and Dayton, Ohio on Aug. 4.
Residents interested in discussing gun violence prevention with the DA’s office are encouraged to email [email protected]
— QUINCY SNOWDON AND KARA MASON, Staff Writers