March 3, 2014 Updated: March 4, 2014 at 5:03 am
DENVER - The director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation cited a long list of statistics last month when he told lawmakers there was a compelling public safety interest not to repeal universal background checks.
But some of the numbers Ron Sloan presented were inaccurate and used out of context, according to data provided to The Gazette and other media through an open records request.
Sloan testified that under the new universal background check law there had been 6,198 "private transfers" screened by the agency.
But the data Sloan cited included sales done at gun shows, which have required background checks for a decade, and background checks for online out-of-state private sales required under a long-standing federal law.
Neither have anything to do with the new background check law passed in 2013.
But he never told lawmakers that.
In the six months prior to the law taking effect, 8,960 background checks labeled as private sales were conducted. And the six months before that, 8,126.
"It's alarming that these were presented in such a way in committee to substantiate the Democrats desire to kill this bill," Senate Republican Leader Bill Cadman, of Colorado Springs, said when shown the data in full context. He said he was "extremely concerned that such misleading information would be provided as factually based testimony by the senior law enforcement professional in Colorado."
In response to questions on Monday, Susan Medina, spokeswoman for CBI, said that although background checks for certain types of private firearms transfers were required before the lawmakers passed House Bill 1229, those private transfers now are covered under the bill passed in 2013 requiring background checks on all transfers.
"The 6,198 private transfers reported by CBI from July 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013 were all covered under HB13-1229," Medina wrote in an e-mail.
Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, who was in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee meeting when Sloan testified last month, said she remembers Sloan qualifying the numbers in his statement, but added she didn't realize those stats included gun shows and online sales.
"I would say I don't think I knew the full context of the information," Aguilar said, after going through the new data released by CBI.
Sloan did say in committee that CBI was incapable of breaking down the number of denials by the type of private sale transaction.
Aguilar said the new data doesn't change the fact that background checks should be required any time a gun is sold or transferred from one person to the next, and that it's a good law if it can prevent just one criminal from acquiring a firearm.
She still would vote against Senate Bill 94.
SB 94 would have repealed the law that took effect in July 2013 requiring background checks for the first time in Colorado on all firearm sales and transfers conducted between private individuals.
Sloan testified against repealing the universal background check law - House Bill 1229 - on Feb. 3.
He said that under the new law, 6,198 background checks were conducted on private transfers and of those 122 sales were denied because an individual failed a background check.
But The Gazette was told by Matt Solomon, a licensed firearm dealer in Eagle, that there has been a "private sales" category on the forms they fill out for background checks for years. He suspected the statistics presented by Sloan did not represent new sales occurring under the new law.
In fact, data released by CBI officials after a battle for records, indicate that during the same six month period in 2012 almost 2,000 more background checks were conducted on "private sales" in Colorado.
CBI conducts those background checks through a system known as InstaCheck, and bureau employees also compile data and post it on the CBI website showing how many background checks were conducted for which types of weapons every month. Bureau employees also post data on the CBI website showing how many requests were denied and why they were denied.
House Bill 1229 took effect on July 1, 2013, and data from that month posted on the CBI website includes for the fist time a "private sales" category.
The data Sloan testified on was from the six-month period of July 1, 2013 to Dec. 31, 2013 when a total of 6,199 "private sale" background checks were conducted (Sloan testified using the number 6,198).
In the six months prior to the law taking effect Jan. 2013 to June 2013, CBI conducted a total of 8,960 "private sale" background checks.
And from July 2012 to Dec. 2012, CBI conducted 8,126 "private sale" background checks.
The data for those 12 months was complied by CBI in response to a records request.
"This is information we have not been required to track, and the information has never been included in the voluminous amount of statistics the CBI has provided from InstaCheck posted on the web site in the past decade," Sloan wrote in a letter that accompanied the data. "CBI does not comment on the statistics. Members of the InstaCheck team simply process the checks. Any background information about the potential meaning of the statistics should come from those outside of CBI."
But Sloan testified last month on what he thought the data meant.
He said he firmly believes "that there is a compelling public safety interest" involved with background checks that keep guns out of the hands of criminals.
"That compelling public interest is in terms of prevention and I would share with you the following data that gives you an idea of the type of prevention we're talking about," Sloan said. "And I would bring your attention to, not the percentages, but the raw numbers - I think the raw numbers speak for themselves."
He then cited overall state-wide background check statistics before getting specifically into data he attributed to the private transfers done under House Bill 1229.
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said it was a misuse of statistics.
"The numbers are pretty clear here," Brophy said. "There's no increase in private transfers for background checks, which means either there aren't very many private sales, or what is much more likely people are just ignoring this law."
He speculated the second category of "private sale" - those that weren't conducted at gun shows and yet existed prior to the new law - were likely online sales to out-of-state customers done by private individuals.
There is a federal law that requires background checks on inter-state firearm sales and that law has existed for years.
"These numbers strike me as how many guns might be shipped on any given month," Brophy said.
Solomon, the Eagle firearms dealer, said he has heard from at-least one other licensed dealer who uses the private sale category for online sales.
"The question that comes to mind is, who is using the private sale button and why?" Solomon said. "Is it a miscommunication between the Colorado Bureau of Investigation and FFL dealers? No matter what the case, the Democrats are using this information to make a point that isn't valid."
Solomon said since the committee hearing he heard a local lawmaker cite the same statistics at her town hall meeting.
"It amazed me that in a two-week period, 10 minutes of information spin could travel that widespread and get sold as the truth that quickly," Solomon said.
Despite his opposition to the universal background check law, Brophy did say there was an element of truth to Sloan's comments in committee.
"You can attribute these background checks to 1229 but the accurate statement is that these checks arguably would have been performed without the passage of House Bill 1229 also," Brophy said. "Political people often use statistics in very careful statements to try to make their point."
But he said Sloan should not be political.
He likened it to the IRS investigating or auditing only conservative groups or the census bureau massaging employment numbers going into an election.
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