Off Limits

A rocky week
After taking heat for its failure to throw a New Year's Eve party and criticism for instituting "martial law" downtown on what was elsewhere the world's most festive night, the office of Mayor Wellington Webb defended itself last week by circulating an editorial published in the January 4 Rocky Mountain News. The editorial, which included the line "Hey, this is America. You're not only free to throw your own party, you're presumed capable of doing so without help from city hall," closely followed the city's own stance.

Among the recipients of the e-mail sent out by Webb spokesman Andrew Hudson was the Denver Business Journal, which, despite a tag line identifying the editorial as being from the News, ran it verbatim on its own opinion pages under Hudson's byline. "It was our mistake," says sheepish DBJ editor Neil Westergaard. "[Hudson] is one of the most ubiquitous e-mailers in city government, and since we hadn't committed the Rocky editorial to memory, we ran it. The tag line should have tipped us off."

So should the piece's prose, which Westergaard had ample opportunity to study in a previous job: as editor of the Denver Post. (He took the business-pub position just two weeks ago, following a PR stint at Blue Cross.) Westergaard says he's apologized to Hudson and News editorial-page editor Vincent Carroll and plans to clarify the mistake in the next issue of the Journal.

"I was alarmed when I read it, but it would not be fair to put all the blame on them," says Hudson. "I went back and looked at the e-mail...and if someone hadn't read the Rocky Mountain News editorial that morning, I can understand why it wouldn't have been clear. I can understand why the mistake was made," he adds. "It wasn't 100 percent their fault."

First shots
The new year may have started with a whimper in Denver, but it started without a bang in Tucson, where both daily newspapers -- the Arizona Daily Star and the Tucson Citizen -- announced on January 2 that they would no longer accept classified gun ads from anyone who is not a licensed gun dealer. "For some time, it has concerned us at the Arizona Daily Star that people who buy guns from individuals selling them through our classified ads circumvent the requirement for background checks. In an age of increasing gun violence, it is difficult to defend our part in the transaction," wrote Star editor and publisher Jane Amari in a front-page letter to readers. Citizen editor and publisher Donald Hatfield wrote a similar letter. The two papers are separately owned but run under a joint operating agreement.

A few days later, Denver auditor Don Mares issued a challenge to Denver's two dailies to do the same. "I am respectfully asking that your newspaper and its affiliates discontinue the sale of classified advertising enabling individuals to sell guns," Mares wrote in a January 4 letter to William Dean "Don't Call Me Dinky" Singleton, chairman of the Post, and Larry Strutton, publisher and CEO of the News. "Sales by individuals require no criminal background check such as those mandated for licensed gun dealers. I am by no means recommending the suspension of an individual's right to sell a legal firearm to another individual, so long as a criminal background check is conducted. In point of fact, there are a number of licensed gun dealers who offer the consignment sale of hand guns, long guns and shotguns."

Since the Columbine shootings, the issue of private individuals selling firearms at gun shows has become a hot one for local and federal lawmakers. Although anyone who buys a gun from a licensed store or dealer has to undergo a criminal background check, the same is not true of private parties who sell guns over the Internet, out of their garage, at gun shows or in the classified sections of newspapers.

The Post and News each have run dozens of articles mentioning this so-called "loophole" as it refers to gun shows, but so far, neither has addressed gun sales through the classifieds. The discrepancy is ludicrous, charges Dave Anver, who owns Dave's Guns on South Parker Road. "It should be all or nothing," he says, adding that if background checks are mandated for unlicensed dealers at gun shows, then every private sale should involve a check. But Anver, who has run ads in both Denver dailies and in Westword, also says he believes a law like that would make "criminals out of a lot of law-abiding people."

The Post didn't return Westword's phone calls. According to Linda Sease, vice president of marketing and public relations for the News, her paper makes sure it doesn't run ads from people selling assault weapons. "But we are not inclined to put limits on things that are currently legal in our country," she adds. "We don't want to get into the business of practicing censorship. All we do is connect buyers and sellers; it is up to them to follow the laws. If someone wants to get a gun, they will get a gun. There are a million ways for someone to get a gun if they want one bad enough. We reviewed our policy again after Columbine to make sure everyone still felt comfortable with it."

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