Gardner hopes to 'Make My Day Better'

By Cindy Brovsky
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

For Rep. Cory Gardner, three strikes don’t mean he’s out when it comes to trying to amend the so-called “Make My Day” law.

The Yuma Republican will make a fourth attempt this session to expand to business owners and employees the law that allows residents to use deadly force to protect their households. The law, passed by the Legislature in 1985, protects Coloradans from prosecution if a resident feels threatened by an intruder on their property.

“(The amendment) has had great bipartisan support and the only way it’s been killed is when they play games,” Gardner said.

Gardner was referring to last year when the bill was killed in the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a day when he said some members were absent. The first year, Gardner said the amendment came close to passing the House and Senate, and the second year it passed out of committee and was passed by the House only to die in the Senate.

“The reason I’m supporting this is I want to give more rights to innocent people than the criminals,” he said.

The bill, which Gardner dubbed “Make My Day Better,” is co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch. The original bill was nicknamed after actor Clint Eastwood’s 1983 police detective character Harry Callahan, who egged on a criminal to shoot him by saying, “Go ahead, make my day.”

Gardner’s previous attempts to amend the law have been supported by the County Sheriffs of Colorado but strongly opposed by the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.

“People have a right to protect themselves in their businesses just as they do to protect themselves in their homes,” said Don Christensen, executive director of the sheriffs’ association.

However, Northglenn Police Chief Russ Van Houten said business owners, especially those untrained with firearms, could put innocent people at risk.

“I think you are looking at protection versus the risk,” he said. “You may have a business owner with a shotgun or pistol, and not the best shot, in a gunfight with a bad guy and bullets could be flying in a business full of people.”

Van Houten, who oversees legislation for the association, said the “Make My Day” law has been abused and he cites the case of Northglenn resident David Guenther. In 1986, Guenther killed a neighbor and wounded her husband after they came on his property during an ongoing dispute. Northglenn police charged Guenther with second-degree murder because they said the couple was leaving the property when they were shot. However, a judge dismissed the case during a pre-trial hearing, citing the “Make My Day” law.

The Colorado Supreme Court ended up ruling on the case twice. In the end he stood trial and was acquitted.

Van Houten said law enforcement was stunned by the decision. A year later, Guenther shot and killed his wife.

“The chiefs feel the law is not always working as it should and it is uncontrolled enough that adding businesses and more opportunities for a bad outcome is not a public benefit,” Van Houten said.

Cindy@coloradostatesman.com