Colorado Newspaper Misstates Background Check Law To Defend Gun Activist's Lie

More than six months after two Colorado state senators were recalled over their support for stronger gun safety legislation, Colorado newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain continues to push false information to defend supporters of the recall.

Controversy in Colorado has erupted over the February 3 testimony of primary recall organizer Victor Head before the Colorado Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. In calling for the repeal of a 2013 law that created a requirement for background checks on most gun sales, Head testified that he gathered recall petition signatures by telling people that the background check law would prohibit firearms loans between immediate family members for longer than 72 hours without a background check.

In fact, Colorado's background check law allows “a bona fide gift or loan” without a background check “between immediate family members, which are limited to spouses, parents, children, siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, first cousins, aunts, and uncles” with no time limit. State Democratic Sen. Angela Giron -- one of the two senators targeted by Head for recall -- was responsible for authoring this family exemption.

In a February 7 article (subscription required), the Chieftain attested to the accuracy of Head's testimony in an article that stated, “But Head, a Republican who is running for Pueblo County clerk, was right when he told petition signers the new gun law blocked family members from loaning guns to each other indefinitely without a background check.”

Again positing that Head was “right,” the Chieftain article went on to inaccurately state: “It may seem like a technicality, but indefinite loans without a check -- like a brother to a brother -- are not allowed.”

From the beginning of a campaign to recall Giron and then-State Senate President John Morse (D) over their support for the background check law and a law restricting high-capacity firearm magazines, the Chieftain's coverage has been questionable.

As the Colorado legislature finalized the new gun laws in March 2013, Chieftain general manager Ray Stafford sent an e-mail to Giron where he highlighted his role with the paper and expressed opposition to Giron's support for stronger gun laws. Stafford's email did not sit well with Giron's senate colleague Morse, who said during an appearance on MSNBC, “He threatened her with how he's going to cover her and then followed through, really, she was on the paper and the front page for practically a week straight.” While the Chieftain's editorial board dismissed ethics concerns over Stafford's email, it was later revealed that Stafford and other members of Chieftain leadership had signed petitions in favor of Giron's recall -- a fact not previously disclosed by the Chieftain.

While the editorial board was strongly anti-Giron -- and in one case misstated Colorado's new election law to baselessly suggest that the recall would be marred by massive voter fraud -- the paper's news coverage was also suspect.

In one instance, the Chieftain gave a story about an ethics complaint filed against Giron top billing on the local news page. At the time, Colorado Ethics Watch Director Luis Toro told Media Matters that the allegation against Giron -- that she posted her state e-mail address on her campaign website -- was “extremely thin” and predicted it would be dismissed as frivolous. Facing criticism for its promotion of the complaint against Giron, the Chieftain later published an article acknowledging that the complaint was flawed. Indeed, it was later revealed that the complaint was defective and never accepted by the Colorado secretary of state for review.

The Chieftain's coverage of Giron during the recall process led to a petition drive by Daily Kos and ProgressNow Colorado that asked Colorado Springs ABC affiliate KRDO to end its “news partner” relationship with the Chieftain. The petition gathered more than 44,000 signatures. 


The Chieftain acknowledged that family members can permanently loan firearms without a background check in a February 8 article, blaming the error on “inaccurate information given in interviews”:

Colorado's new law on background checks on individual gun sales allows family members to loan each other guns for unlimited periods, the legal staff for Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday.

A news story about a Colorado Senate committee meeting earlier this week mistakenly reported those indefinite loans were not allowed.

The reporter made the mistake based on inaccurate information given in interviews.

At issue was whether Victor Head, the Pueblo plumber who organized the successful recall effort against state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, misrepresented the new law in persuading people to sign recall petitions last summer.