Colorado Spring shooting (courtesy nbcnews.com)

“An emergency call placed moments before Saturday’s shooting rampage in Colorado Springs has sparked intense debate on how police should respond to armed people in public given Colorado’s open carry law.,” denverpost.com reports. “Naomi Bettis told The Denver Post she called 911 after spotting her neighbor, 33-year-old Noah Harpham, armed with a rifle on the street. She says a dispatcher explained Colorado allows public handling of firearms. Harpham went on to kill three people.” So it’s looks like yes, Colorado’s open carry laws did delay the police response until there were reports of shots fired. The problem with this is . . .

Nothing. There is no problem.

The resolutely pro-SWATting Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and their ilk may be having a field day – open carry means we can’t know who’s a bad guy and who isn’t so we need to call EVERY TIME! – but there’s no way the Colorado police should dispatch a policeman every time someone calls to report a citizen lawfully exercising their right to bear arms in pubic.

If they did so, they would be guilty of violating a basic principle of American justice: innocent until proven guilty. The cops would be committing themselves to operating on a “pre-crime” basis. If the state can detain and interrogate someone engaged in a lawful activity merely on the suspicion that the lawful activity could lead to illegal activity, they could stop everyone coming out of a liquor store heading towards their car.

It’s sad that the Colorado Springs killer wasn’t intercepted before he pulled the trigger, but it would be a lot worse if we lived in a police state. Of course, the police are allowed to take in the totality of circumstances when deciding whether or not a person may be about to commit a crime. Someone who’s obviously casing a store for a robbery, for example. But the cops are not pre-cogs. They can’t know what they don’t know, and shouldn’t act unless they have a “reasonable suspicion.”

It’s a limitation of which they’re aware, thankfully. Sensibly enough, they try to obtain critical information before making a decision whether or not to deploy. Like this:

Police agencies statewide say the statute poses a difficult question of how to react when citizens call — frequently — to report an armed person in public. Is it an emergency or not?

“A lot of (our reaction) depends on information we obtain from the person calling in,” said Julie Brooks, spokeswoman for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. “The information we get from the caller is vitally important.” . . .

Denver-area law enforcement agencies say their response to armed people in public varies on the circumstances.

“Is this person exercising their rights or about to start a very serious situation in which someone is going to be killed?” said Jacki Kelley, spokeswoman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. “We just don’t know the difference.”

Kelley said deputies, for instance, respond with lights and sirens blaring when an open carry situation is reported outside a school. Recently, the sheriff’s office has twice fielded reports from alarmed citizens when someone had a gun in a movie theater.

In those situations, deputies made an emergency, immediate response.

“That can be sensitive because of the Aurora theater shooting,” Kelley said.

OK, this police direction can be taken too far. Lights and sirens? Shouldn’t that depend on how far the open carrier is from a school and other factors? There are laws about such things. But the fact remains: when an open carrier is acting within the law, the law has no obligation to investigate. Bad things can happen as a result, but worse things can happen if the police become proactive.

40 Responses to Did Colorado’s Open Carry Law Delay Police Response to Colorado Springs Spree Killing?

    • So if you are casing a rifle and putting it in the trunk should some pants wetter expect the cops to show up with SWAT?

    • “Many people don’t care if we have a police state, so long as they aren’t bothered by the cops”

      But then tell that to the >160 Million people murdered by police states in the last 100 years..

      ‘Sure, let a small coterie of power-seekers divide up the nation amongst themselves, with only their egos (and cowardice) to guide them, .. and special classes of militarized thugs to enforce it all. I’m sure that’ll be fine.’

  1. I have a feeling this will be the bloody shirt the antis will wave to say “See…open carry leads to murder. Ban open carry.”

    Incrementalism is the strategy both ways.

    • And your simple counter-argument:

      Every person behind the wheel of a car is “openly driving” and we don’t know if they are a good person or a bad person. They could be just an instant away from smashing into a pedestrian with murderous intent. We MUST therefore call the police every time we see someone “openly driving” a car so that the police can stop them and question them to determine what they intend to do with that car. This should not be a big deal. The police will only detain the driver for two or three minutes.

      Meanwhile, we should also be working diligently to eliminate cars because no one needs to drive a car. They could walk, jog, ride a bicycle, motorcycle, or even take a taxi or a bus.

      • Be careful what you talk about banning, even in jest. There are many city folks who would like to ban automobiles in the city, for the very reasons you mentioned.

      • See that and raise you one: actually wielding a car is perfectly legal until you actually use it to attack someone, while wielding a gun is NOT perfectly legal; it is called brandishing and the cops can and do respond to it.

  2. Meanwhile terrorists/criminals/crazies are learning that diverting 1/3 of all LE agency personnel to a location is as easy as a phone call.

    Want more time to shoot up a mall….call in an open carrier near the school.

    • And if said spree shooter told 911 that the hoax school shooter has already killed a cop, then I’m sure the other 2/3 of officers, plus every other officer retired, off duty or on vacation, would respond, as well.

      Frankly, the only thing surprising is that psycho killers or terrorists haven’t pulled this stunt already.

  3. The 911 dispatchers need to be trained to ask questions to determine whether the reason for the man with gun call is legally carrying or brandishing. For example, Is the gun in a holster/slung over their shoulder?

    • They are.
      Police are also trained to look for the difference between a bad guy with a gun and a good guy with a gun.

      Spoiler alert: Easy way to tell, the bad guy points the gun at the cops.

      • Or the caller see’s a pistol in the center console of your car with disabled vet plates, and helpfully informs the dispatcher that you’re currently sitting in a classroom talking about murder/suicide. CPD will immediately roll in 8 deep, and detain/arrest & confiscate without asking questions.
        Nor will the judge care that the caller later admits he was lying, or that the pistol & vehicle was not on school grounds, because relieving a PTSD-ridden veteran of his firearms is far more important.

  4. Yep, seems that everyone worries about the guns they CAN see, especially when a guy is acting completely normal and unthreatening. They couldn’t care less about the concealed firearms that they CAN’T see. I got into a discussion with someone after I said that, and they said “well, if it’s concealed, they have to be licensed.” I said “nowhere does it require a license for me to conceal a firearm,” to which they said “of course it does”. No, I can conceal a firearm anywhere I want. Now, if I want to do it LEGALLY, that’s another matter and I have to have a license (in most places). These people lose their minds if they SEE a firearm and no threat exists. They don’t care on whit (or they’re just mindless zombies, more likely) about a prohibited person standing five feet away that has a firearm illegally in the first place, and concealed.

    • It’s amazing how a thin layer of fabric turns you from a crazed psychopath into a normal person. It even works on people that already know you carry!

  5. So, as the joke goes.

    A woman took her husbands fishing boat out on a lake to enjoy some quiet reading time to herself.
    The fish and game commission officer pulls up beside her and asks for her fishing license, she responds,
    “I don’t have a fishing license”, the officer says ” Then I’m afraid I,m going to have to fine you”,
    “why, I’m not out here fishing” she asked, the officer said “because you have all the equipment for fishing so it leaves me to believe you are illegally fishing”, she responds “well then I am going to have you arrested for rape!”
    “How is that!?” he responds back.
    She says “Because you have all the necessary equipment”

    Or something like that.

    BAM!
    Ur welcome.

    Suns out, Guns out.

  6. The age old balancing act of a civilised society. How much intrusion is warrented in your private life to protect the general good of society as a whole.

    Has any country ever got it right?

  7. I bet if the cops responded this situation would have been ended quickly. Even dispatching an officer to watch his actions would have likely been enough (no unconstitutional stop needed). And I bet they will dispatch someone to calls like that in the future…

    • Maybe. I’m interested to know how the call went, if the caller said “there’s a guy walking down the street with a rifle slung over his shoulder” or “there’s an angry guy waving a rifle around and threatening to kill people.” Big difference… If it was the second, and the police didn’t respond, shame on them. That’s not open carrying; that’s disturbing the peace, brandishing, threatening with a deadly weapon, etc.

    • “Even dispatching an officer to watch his actions would have likely been enough (no unconstitutional stop needed).”

      Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! We have a winner. If police want to watch a person, by all means go ahead.

      Too many people use the word “suspicious” when the correct word is unusual or unknown.

      • There are 750,000 uniformed LEO in the US. By conservative estimates, there are 1,000,000 open carriers in the US.

        I’m sure the police can make better use of their time, and our tax dollars, than by “observing” every single person open carrying a firearm.

        • A quick observation won’t eat up much time. Besides, 1,000,000 open carriers aren’t all getting the SWAT treatment all at the same time. I have a feeling that these calls aren’t all that common.

          I know a few officers that get out of their cruisers and do field interviews pretty often. The target can refuse to interact (though most don’t) and all fears are settled.

        • The implication is that a) people should make MWAG calls upon the mere sight of an open carrier, and b) the police should respond, at least to observe, to every one of those MWAG calls.

          Why? What other class of people should be subjected to police “observation” for mere conduct of lawful activity – especially, activity expressing a natural, constitutionally protected right?

  8. Instead of “crazy cowboy gun laws delay police response”, what about “CSGV members swatting open carriers cause cops to second guess every call, delaying response”?

    • Exactly, the CSGV openly and persistently advocates SWATing everyone you see with a gun. They are the ones making the police wary of these type of calls. They are the one flooding the police with false information that makes them less concerned about a real problem like this guy. This is ALL on them. But yes, in terms of actual difference in realistic police response times, it’s also a non issue.

  9. This assumption here is that even if the police were dispatched immediately that they would have gotten there any sooner. Doubtful. Response time is what it is and it isn’t seconds.

    • So, this wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill MWAG call. The person who called reported that a person was carrying gas cans, had a slung rifle, and was trespassing in a closed business with a broken window.

      So, this was not a call about a MWAG doing nothing unlawful. This was a call about a person committing per se unlawful actions, and acting further suspiciously, while also carrying a rifle.

      • I listened to the tape a couple of times and asked myself, if there wasn’t a gun reported, would I have dispatched someone to investigate. The answer is without question yes.

  10. I have zero problem with police officers driving by, or walking by, and looking at someone open carrying. Why would I? Police are citizens too and have every right look and see in public spaces just as much as I do. In this case, or really any case, it is fine with me if police are dispatched to any call about open carriers. IF…and that is a big letters “if” there, those officers do nothing more than observe the individual with the least amount of intrusion necessary to determine if a real threat exists. 99% of the time that will be nothing more than a quick look and moving on. Police, just like any public servants, have to have some level of discretion.

  11. Ya, thank god the victims were counting on the police to protect them and weren’t carrying themselves, or else the gunman wouldn’t have been able to get off a shot. It’s even debatable whether or not he would have even tried it in and amongst fellow armed citizens.

    “All crime is based upon response time”. [J. M. Thomas R., TERMS, 2012]

  12. Here in Washington State, open carry is not statutorily authorized, nor is it statutorily prohibited. Anything that is not statutorily prohibited, is legal. How this works in Washington State then, open carry is to some extent, simply tolerated. What the controlling law or RCW 9.41.270 says in short : It shall be unlawful for any person to carry, exhibit, display, or draw any firearm, dagger, sword, knife or other cutting or stabbing instrument, club, or any other weapon apparently capable of producing bodily harm, in a manner, under circumstances, and at a time and place that either manifests an intent to intimidate another or that warrants alarm for the safety of other persons.

    With that language, anytime ANYONE is alarmed at the demeanor of someone carrying ANY weapon, where as to the complainant, the person with the weapon seems out of place, not right or otherwise suspicious, the police will respond. I know around my neighborhood, someone walking around with a long gun would get police response quickly. Standing in my front yard displaying a rifle to a neighbor not so much. Having lived here almost 40 years, I could stand around with a firearm. However, if I was to take walk with it off my block, walking around with a black scary rifle hanging on me, I would have cops up my ass faster than a colonoscopy.

    • The language of the law doesn’t mean that it’s illegal to “alarm” anyone. As with other such laws, there is a “reasonable person” standard at play here – i.e. whether a reasonable person (which is a term with a specific legal definition) would be alarmed, not necessarily any random bystander. A reasonable person is expected, among other things, to be aware of the laws pertaining to carry, and so the mere fact of open carry being alarming would not be considered reasonable.

      Police can, and usually will (depending on the city) investigate, but if they come and just find you carrying in a normal fashion, they will not arrest you.

  13. I thought cops were taught to follow their gut feeling of “JDLR” – Just Doesn’t Look Right.

    A guy with a long gun walking around a populated area while carrying a gasoline can? Yeah, just doesn’t look right.

    By the letter of the law, he can do that, but in a practical world, I’d go check it out.

    The antis love to use the phrase “common sense” – the one time they had an opportunity to put it to practice, people got killed.

    Damn fine police work there, Lou.

  14. Had the cops in this case, as a precaution, rolled up on Noah Harpham in the nick of time after the 911 call and tried to speak with him, what would have occurred? I have no idea.

    FWIW, I have OCed on the Las Vegas strip (Nevada is an open carry state, but I have a Nevada license anyway). MetroPD has an excellent training video for its officers that teaches them to evaluate without being jackasses about it. I haven’t been challenged, but if I am and the officer is nice and keeps his hands to himself, I wouldn’t object and the encounter would last about 30 seconds. We might even end up comparing notes.

  15. Beats me. No open carry in Illinois. But I DON’T see problems a mile away in Indiana. I am pro-open carry and wish I had the option…

  16. 911 may need a different set of questions and method. In reality what happened is rare. If we took a snapshot of the entire USA and placed a phone call for every open carry seen, how many would result in a violent crime. Answer is likely zero.

  17. My view is that if we had stricter mental health laws, this person could have been previously identified and treated. But we’ll never know that, will we? I’d love to here the 911 tape to see if the dispatcher asked the right questions though, like is he carrying or pointing it?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *