Updated: August 10, 2012 at 12:00 am
Colorado Springs police say an outdated “cheat sheet” for police officers on city laws may have led to the mistaken arrest of a 24-year-old man for openly carrying a 40-caliber gun at Pride Fest on July 21.
According to city and state law for almost a decade, people are allowed to openly carry guns in city parks.
“He was right and we were in the wrong, definitely,” said Barbara Miller, police spokeswoman.
That admission doesn’t mean much to James Sorensen, who says he’s looking for a lawyer after he was detained by police for more than an hour that day when police spotted his gun at his side.
Gun rights issues have been fervently debated since the Aurora theater shootings that left 12 people dead and dozens wounded. Some people suggest that if more law-abiding citizens carried guns such random shooting incidents would end more quickly and with fewer victims. Others believe that more guns at such a scene would’ve caused more deaths.
Regardless, even some gun rights activists point out that openly carrying firearms in public can cause fear.
William Marsh, president of the Colorado Springs-based Colorado School of Firearms said Sorensen was within his rights that day but he’s personally against openly carrying guns. He advocates instead for concealed weapons permits.
Seeing a gun can agitate people, he said.
“People see a gun and go ballistic,” he said. “There are a lot of bunny huggers out there … as soon as they see a gun they think of death and destruction.”
He said that people openly carrying guns can also be a target and he thinks it’s better for them to conceal their guns to use when necessary.
“When you openly carry a gun it leaves you to the interpretation of ‘hey, what are you going to be doing with that.’”
Ron Coleman, who volunteers for the National Rifle Association but is not a spokesman, said he openly carries his own gun around his neighborhood.
“He was totally within his rights, no doubt,” he said of Sorensen. “The cops lied to harass him and arrest him. Those police officers know the law. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Sorensen said he was heading to his vehicle from the event at Acacia Park downtown when an officer asked him to leave. When Sorensen asked the officer for his identification, he said he was detained and eventually arrested. His partner taped the altercation with police and put it on You Tube. During the 13-minute video, Sorensen became more and more agitated and continued to ask the half-dozen officers there if he could leave. They told him he couldn’t.
“This is bogus, I can’t wait until this gets to court,” he said in the video, then swearing.
Later, he said: “This is because I’m gay. I’m gay and carrying a weapon and I threaten you don’t I?”
Police, who knew they were being taped, remained calm but insisted that he couldn’t leave. After he was taken away in a police car, Sorensen said he was held in a jail cell for almost an hour and then given a citation. He was also given a complaint form, outlining what happened from the police perspective. The form said he was “hostile” and was “attempting to incite disorder.” It also cites an outdated Colorado Springs law that banned people from publicly carrying a weapon in city parks.
Miller said the police “cheat sheet” – a 40-page document that outlines city laws – has since been updated and the department is conducting an internal investigation to find out why that hadn’t been done earlier and why officers didn’t do further research into the law.
“It’s supposed to be used as a guide,” Miller said. “If you have any questions, you’re supposed to look up the actual wording of the law.”
She said Sorensen’s citation has been dismissed, there will be no record of the arrest and he is not required to go to court.
Sorensen, an Army veteran who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he has been a gun rights advocate since he was a boy when his father openly carried his own gun. He said he often carries his gun to large public events and had no problems that day at Pride Fest.
“No one there was bothered by me,” he said. “They all asked if I would protect them if something happened.”
CARRYING A GUN
Where you can openly carry a gun
State and national parks, but the gun must be carried in designated areas
Restaurants and private businesses except where prohibited. A gun can be taken into a bar, where the business allows, but it is illegal to drink while carrying a gun.
Campuses of public colleges and universities with a concealed carry permit. Specific regulations may vary from campus to campus
Inside a vehicle, though there can’t be a round chambered inside a shotgun or rifle
Where aren’t guns allowed
In private businesses or restaurants where the owner does not allow them
K-12 public schools
Areas with fixed security checks, such as court houses
Public buildings where they are specifically banned, including City of Colorado Springs buildings
Contact Maria St. Louis-Sanchez: 636-0274
Facebook Gazette Maria St. Louis-Sanchez