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Boulder County Officials Emphasize Prosecution for Lying on Gun Background Check Forms

September 21, 2018

Tyler Fogg-Laitinen, of Longmont, looks at an AR-15-style rifle at Grandpa's Gun & Pawn on Thursday.

A Longmont man has been arrested after he reportedly tried to purchase a handgun by lying on a background form about his domestic violence conviction, a violation local prosecutors and gun store owners say needs to be prosecuted to prevent more people from trying to circumvent the checks.

According to an affidavit, Wally John Corley, 58, tried to buy a handgun from Grandpa’s Pawn in Longmont in 2015 even though Corley had a misdemeanor domestic violence assault conviction on his record, which made him ineligible to own a gun.

Corley checked the “no” box on the form where he was asked if he had any domestic violence convictions, but his background check was denied.

A warrant was issued for Corley’s arrest in 2016 on suspicion of attempt to influence a public servant and providing false information on a firearm background check, and he was finally located and taken into custody on Tuesday after Boulder police found him while investigating a noise complaint and discovered the outstanding warrant.

He has posted a $200 cash bond and is scheduled for a hearing on Oct. 3.

While Boulder District Attorney Michael Dougherty could not comment on Corley’s case specifically, he said prosecuting those who lie on firearm background check forms needs to be a point of emphasis. Corley’s case is the second such arrest this year.

“Those cases are definitely a priority,” Dougherty said. “The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation is said to increase the risk of homicide of women by 500 percent.”

In a recent opinion piece, the Chicago Tribune lamented the lack of consequences for people who “lie and try.” The piece quoted a new report from the federal Government Accountability Office saying that in 2017, a total of 112,000 people who tried to buy guns from licensed dealers were caught giving false information on the form.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives referred just 12,700 cases to field offices for investigation. Of those, the Justice Department prosecuted just 12.

“The message to criminals is clear: What have you got to lose?,” The Tribune wrote. “Maybe you’ll get the gun in spite of your disqualifying record. If you don’t get the gun, no worries, because you will almost certainly go unpunished.”

Rod Brandenburg, owner of Grandpa’s Pawn & Gun in Longmont, agreed that it is largely on prosecutors to give teeth to the laws.

“They need to come down on them, absolutely,” Brandenburg said. “That’s something we deal with too often, unfortunately.”

Brandenburg said he and his employees try to engage with customers to see if they can spot people who are not in the right state of mind to buy a gun, but the decision on who is allowed to buy a gun and who is prosecuted for illegally trying to buy one is out of their hands.

“All the finger-pointing goes back to gun stores, but we are not the ones who make those decisions,” Brandenburg said. “We do look for key words, we always ask people what they need a gun for, try to get them to engage with us.

“But we don’t know if they have a warrant, or are under indictment.”

Colorado has its own law prohibiting lying on the form, but Dougherty said only 24 cases for people lying on background check forms were filed in the state between January 2016 and January 2018, nine of them out of Boulder County. But in 2015, the year Corley tried to buy the weapon, Dougherty said there were 388 applications denied by the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.

“This law can be a challenge to enforce because of the jurisdiction and the timing of learning about these cases when they happen,” Dougherty said.

In Worley’s case, he reportedly tried to buy the handgun on Dec. 15, 2015, but Longmont police were not notified until Jan. 7, 2016.

“There is a delay there,” Dougherty said. “The background check is submitted, and if it comes back as a rejection or a denial, the notification is then made to the police department for that respective jurisdiction. But by then, the would-be purchaser has left the scene.”

The CBI also notifies both the police department where the purchase was attempted and the police department where the suspect lives, which leads to agencies having to decide who should investigate.

While both Dougherty and former District Attorney Stan Garnett have made prosecuting such cases a priority — Boulder County accounted for nine of the 24 cases filed in the past two years — Dougherty said it is possible other jurisdictions might not view them as a priority because they are misdemeanors.

“I’d like to think that was not a consideration, the fact that it is only a misdemeanor,” Dougherty said. “But if we want our state to be more serious, we should evaluate whether it should be a misdemeanor or a felony.”

But whatever level offense it is, Dougherty said lying on background forms needs to be prosecuted and police, gun shops and those who lawfully obtain weapons have a vested interest in the laws carrying weight.

“In any area of the law, if those laws are not being enforced, it could lead to people doing things with impunity,” he said. “People with domestic violence records, that’s too serious for that perception to exist.”

Mitchell Byars: 303-473-1329, byarsm@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/mitchellbyars

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