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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Right call on Rep. Lori Saine’s concealed-carry mistake

State Rep. Lori Saine made a colossal blunder and paid the price as television stations, newspapers, and websites splashed her face alongside denigrating headlines. Prosecutors were right not to bring criminal charges as well.

Saine became the focus of so much attention when she passed through airport security with a loaded gun in her bag. A legislator known for her ardent gun rights support, Saine provided perfect fodder for anyone hoping to cast her as a hypocritical lawmaker.

And the first person to castigate Saine was likely Saine herself.

Saine’s attorney has since explained she forgot the gun was in her bag. If that is true, then I imagine the moment TSA pulled her out of line and brought the firearm to her attention she reacted as anyone does in the instant when something important is forgotten and suddenly remembered. Time stands still and a million thoughts rush through your head at once. Self-critical inner accusations begin, probably in an expletive-laced format. I’m guessing it took Saine less than a second to go from realizing her error to inwardly asking herself how she could be so careless.

In the subsequent days she was detained, questioned, arrested and spent a night in jail. She  became the gleeful focus of her political opponents, the butt of many jokes, and the center of news stories following her every court proceeding. And that is all before the Denver District Attorney recused her office from considering charges and requested a special prosecutor.

At some point, the consequences become more about who Saine is rather than what she did. That does not serve the cause of justice. I understand carrying a loaded gun through airport security is not the same as accidentally packing a 4-ounce tube of toothpaste. It’s not even in the same ballpark. But Saine’s actions don’t seem to be criminal in nature, either.

Saine is a concealed-carry permit holder. In Colorado that means she has met eight requirements, including demonstrated competence with a handgun, and her county sheriff has verified the information. I know the process because I’m a concealed-carry permit holder, too.

When I carry, my firearm of choice is a 9mm Sig Sauer, not too dissimilar from Saine’s 9mm Kahr. Although I don’t carry on a daily basis — which, based on her background, I assume Saine does — it is still easy to forget I have it on me. Much easier than anyone who has never concealed-carried might realize. Guns designed for concealed use are small and light; because I carry on the outside of my belt, I don’t notice its weight. On more than one occasion, I’ve walked up to a building that bars guns on the premises before I remember, turn around, and lock it in my car trunk. It’s often only when I see metal detectors like court buildings have that I suddenly remember. Luckily, I’ve never been too distracted to forget until it is too late.

TSA found the small handgun in Saine’s purse; consequently, it would be much easier to forget than the one on my belt. She simply made an honest mistake. And if that is the case, then she didn’t “knowingly” introducing a firearm into a restricted area and shouldn’t face any criminal charges. The Boulder District Attorney’s office, appointed as special prosecutor after the Denver DA, Beth McCann, recused herself due to her prior work experience with Saine in the state house, got this one right in not pressing charges.

I believe the people of Colorado should expect our legislators act in accordance with a heightened standard of care. But we also can’t expect them to be free from human error. Consequently, Lori Saine shouldn’t have to defend herself in court for an honest mistake.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and Denver Post columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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