Put down your legal guns, Mr. Martin

When 30 SWAT officers in battle gear executed a no-knock search warrant at William Martin’s Fruitvale home in November 2007, and seized 150 of his family’s guns, we thought it was a law enforcement exercise taken to unnecessary extremes. But that doesn’t mean the judicial system acted illegally in Martin’s case.

As we noted nearly two years ago, Martin had cooperated with Mesa County Sheriff’s Department officers during the investigation of a gun that he had loaned to another person, which was subsequently involved in a domestic-violence incident. There was no evidence he was planning any violent actions or involved in illegal sales of weapons. He even voluntarily showed sheriff’s deputies the locked storage room where his family’s collection of guns — including many antiques — was kept.

The only reason for the search-and-seizure mission that day, and the search warrant that allowed it, was that Martin had a felony conviction in 1991, and Colorado law prohibits felons from owning guns.

But because Martin was convicted of vehicular assault before the felony gun ban was adopted by the Legislature, it wasn’t even clear he was covered by the ban. What was clear is that he didn’t believe he was violating any laws by having the family guns in his house.

That was the primary reason District Attorney Pete Hautzinger decided last year not to pursue criminal charges against Martin, and why the confiscated weapons were returned to Martin’s family.

Since then, Martin has taken legal action, claiming that the search warrant issued for his home was illegal because, among other reasons, Martin’s right to own weapons was restored after he completed probation for the 1991 case.

Last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals rejected that complaint. It said the state law “contains no exemptions for convicted felons whose civil rights have been restored.”

Martin said following the Appeals Court decision last week that “this is not the final chapter.” He certainly has the legal right to pursue this case further. But he ought to reconsider.

The criminal case against him was dropped. The guns were restored to his family. The chances of him extracting some sort of legal vengeance from local authorities who acted within the law, as interpreted by the Appeals Court, appears slim, at best.


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