Could open carry delay police response to an active shooter scenario? That is exactly what is being alleged after the October 31 shootings in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Various news outlets have twisted the narrative to blame ‘open carry’ and the dispatcher for dismissing the seriousness of the call, irrespective of the actual details of the 911 tapes (linked). Evidence shows the dispatcher did no such thing and responded appropriately to the information conveyed.
First 911 Call
Two women and a bicyclist were killed in a bizarre rampage that left part of the gunman’s apartment on fire. Police were initially dispatched to a potential burglary call based on the information from the first 911 call.
A suspicious person call was made to the Colorado Springs police, reporting a man carrying a black long-gun carrying gas cans and acting suspiciously. The caller’s statements indicated that the man was making trips back and forth from a building. During the conversation with the dispatcher, the caller, Naomi Bettis, implied that the suspect may have been a burglar.
Bettis stated she saw the suspect, walking around with 2 cans of gas, black rifle “with a strap” (sling). He was walking up to a vacant business approaching doors and “broken windows.” She felt he was dangerous and was afraid of him, though she was calm during her first call. She said the gun “was kind of scary,” but didn’t know if it was a firearm or BB gun.
The dispatcher, after allegedly dismissing the gun as ‘open carry’ (listen to the tape, she did nothing of the sort), mentioned that having the gas cans was suspicious and was “going to keep the call open for that.”
The dispatcher praised Bettis for doing the right thing to report the suspicious subject that it was better to be safe than sorry. The suspect was not engaged in any violent or illegal act during the first call, giving police no indication of what was to happen next.
Editor’s note: Based on my law enforcement experience, the description of the suspect’s behavior indicated that potentially a burglary or arson (broken windows and gas cans) may have been about to be committed. In urban areas, the vast majority of open carriers don’t walk around with a long-guns or carry around gas cans while slinging a rifle.
Second 911 Call
The controversy as to whether or not the legality of open carry contributed to the shootings was based on a statement made by Bettis to the Washington Post.
“But that’s what I told her, and all of a sudden she started saying something about— I don’t remember what they call it— open arms … and she said, you know, we have that law here. And it just kind of blew me away, like she didn’t believe me or something. […] “I don’t think she probably thought it was an emergency until I made the second call […]”
Listen to the tapes, this is exactly what the dispatcher said regarding open carry. Bettis was not brushed off. Bettis' statements, made after the fact and probably without knowing the 911 call would be made public, made statements that are not supported by reality. She is mistaken in her recollection of the call, her opinion possibly warped by the traumatic incident she witnessed.
Should police respond to calls of open carriers?
Colorado Springs Police’s policy regarding responding to open carriers is:
The mere act of openly carrying a gun in a non-threatening manner is not automatically to be considered suspicious behavior. Therefore, if we get a call from a citizen about a person who has a firearm in plain sight and they are not acting in a suspicious manner, they have not brandished it, discharged it, or violated any of the previous conditions; CSPD will not respond.
However, police did respond due to the additional circumstances that Bettis described. Bettis did not call first to report a shooting in progress, she reported what seemed to be a burglary about to be committed by an armed man.
Dispatcher: “Are you or anyone else in immediate danger?”
Since no crime was being committed yet, only suspicious acts (Bettis being the only reporting party), police had no reason to speed to scene. Had the suspect merely been loading his vehicle with gas and guns for a hunting trip, police would have had no cause to respond at all (given the first call alone). Bettis’ call alerting the police may have aided in saving lives by moving the police officers closer to the area when it was upgraded to a shooting in progress. Guns plus suspicious behavior warrants police attention, while guns alone does not.
Karin Mracek, communications manager for the Carson City Sheriff's Office said that: "If we receive a phone call from a citizen, reference someone with a gun, that they feel is suspicious, we will enter a call for service. We will send one, or more deputies to the location, conveying as much information as we can, so they can give it the correct priority and make the most appropriate approach."
A spokesperson from the Nevada Highway Patrol who couldn’t speak on the record told us:
“The dispatchers are put in a precarious position that relies a lot on what questions they ask next. What is the person doing with the guns? What is their demeanor? How are they dressed? I know a lot of those questions may sound like profiling, but unless the dispatcher has a crystal ball, they don't know what the person with the guns is doing or planning to do. I believe they [the CSPD dispatcher] acted correctly in creating a call for service and dispatching a unit to observe and possibly make contact with the man because until he shot someone, he hadn't done anything illegal.
The response from Moms Demand Action is typical of the thought processes of those who think the police are omnipresent and can stop crime before it occurs in every instance. That simply isn't the case and when you expect police to be able to do that, you walk a fine line between getting lucky and stopping a crime in progress and violating the civil rights of good citizens.”
Open carry vs. concealed carry
Colorado Springs City Councilman Bill Murray decried open carry, calling on the city to ban it, despite Colorado state law prohibiting local governments from making firearm restrictions, known as state preemption. Nevada has similar laws. “Open-carry is a privilege, it is not a right. Why would a person openly carry a weapon down the street, except to intimidate?” Murray is mistaken. In fact, in Colorado, like Nevada, licensed concealed carry is actually a privilege, while open carry is a right.
Guns.com, in the above linked article, explains how the Bloomberg backed anti-gun group, Moms Demand Action, blame open carry for creating ‘confusion’ to the police response. As the facts above state, nothing of the sort occurred.
In Nevada, open carriers have occasionally been the subject of ‘man with a gun’ calls only for police to determine no law was violated. A citizen openly carrying a firearm on the Strip was illegally detained by LVMPD who embarrassingly learned no law prohibited it, resulting in LVMPD staff being retrained.