Denver, CO

Denver adds new panhandling rules in 'ghost gun' bill

David Heitz

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Passively holding a sign asking for donations still would be permissible under Denver's new panhandling rules.Matt Collamer/Unsplash

By David Heitz / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Buried deep inside a comprehensive gun control bill that Denver is set to approve next week, the city targets panhandlers and people who disturb the peace. Both groups primarily tend to be homeless.

The city wants to outlaw certain aspects of aggressive panhandling and disturbing the peace. The new provisions sit in the middle of a several-page gun control bill set for final council approval next week.

Denver already has a ban on aggressive panhandling, but after a federal judge ruled against a similar panhandling ordinance in Grand Junction, the city stopped enforcing it in 2015.

"This court believes that panhandling carries a message," CBS4 quoted Judge Christine Arguello as saying. "Often a request for money conveys conditions of poverty, homelessness and unemployment as well as a lack of access to medical care, reentry services for person convicted of crimes and mental health support for veterans. The city's attempt to regulate this message is an attempt to restrain the expression of conditions of poverty to other citizens."

What 'aggressive' panhandling is and isn't

The new ordinance clarifies its definition of "aggressive" panhandling by adding a touch requirement.

"Aggressive panhandling shall mean intentionally touching or causing physical contact with another person without that person's consent in the course of soliciting; intentionally blocking or interfering with the safe or free passage of a pedestrian or vehicle by any means, including unreasonably causing a pedestrian or vehicle operator to take evasive action to avoid physical contact; using violent or threatening gestures toward a person solicited; using profane or abusive language which is likely to provoke an immediate violent reaction from the person being solicited; approaching or following a person for solicitation as part of a group of two or more persons, in a manner and with conduct, words, or gestures intended or likely to cause a reasonable person to fear imminent bodily harm or damage to or loss of property or otherwise to be intimidated into giving money or other thing of value," the proposed law reads.

"Purchase of an item for an amount far exceeding its value, under circumstances where a reasonable person would understand that the purchase is in substance a donation, is a donation for the purpose of this section."

The law also specifies what panhandling isn't. Passively "waving a sign" is not banned.

"Panhandling does not include passively standing or sitting with a sign or other indication that one is seeking donations, without addressing any solicitation to any specific person other than in response to an inquiry by that person," according to the ordinance.

"Public place shall mean a place to which the public or a substantial group of persons has access, including, but not limited to, any street, sidewalk, highway, parking lot, plaza, transportation facility, school, place of amusement, park, or playground."

Reserving parking spaces for money banned

The law bans other ways people experiencing homelessness make money, too. For example, being paid to reserve a parking space would be outlawed.

Finally, another part of the ghost gun law addresses disturbing the peace laws.

"Generally, it shall be unlawful for any person to disturb or tend to disturb the peace of another person or persons others by violent, tumultuous, offensive or obstreperous conduct or by loud or unusual noises or by unseemly, profane, obscene or offensive language calculated to provoke a breach of the peace or for any person to permit any such conduct in any house or upon any premises owned or possessed by such person or under their management or control, when within such person's power to prevent, so that another person or persons others in the vicinity are or may be disturbed thereby. "

The bill survived its first reading before the City Council and likely will be voted into law next week.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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