Gun Owner Fighting to Restore Rights

By: Jessica Zartler Email
By: Jessica Zartler Email

A ten month battle between a gun owner who is a convicted felon and a veteran and the Mesa County Sheriff's Office took a new turn Tuesday. More than 180 guns seized in a SWAT raid on Bill Martin's home have been returned to his family.

Bill Martin is facing an uphill battle in the courts right now. If he's successful, his case could change Colorado law. He wants to restore gun rights for people who have served their time for felonies.
But Tuesday he celebrated one victory, getting his gun collection back.

Ten months ago 11 News cameras were rolling as the Mesa County Sheriff's Office raided Bill Martin's home on a no-knock search warrant, seizing hundreds of guns and cases of ammo.

Tuesday, Mesa County deputies handed those guns back to Bill Martin's family.

"They limited my access to view my guns, my family's guns. They don't want the media in but they had no problem letting the media in while they raided my home and called me a convicted felon," Martin told 11 News on Tuesday.

He was not happy that he had to view the handover behind the sheriff's office from a Riverside Parkway walkway. The sheriff's office says for security reasons they handover evidence in a secure location and not to the former suspect.

"I haven't been charged and I will not be charged."

It all stems from a gap in gun ownership laws in state and federal law. Martin is a prior felon. In 1991 he pleaded guilty to vehicular assault and served his time. According to federal law he can own a gun, by state law he can't.

"I have a right to protect myself, I have a right to protect my family, I have a right to own guns," said Martin.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dan Rubenstein says he did not prosecute Martin because he didn't think it was fair Martin was unaware of the state law.

"I invited them in, showed them my guns, there was no need for a search warrant," Martin told 11 News.

Martin says the sheriff's office used excessive force for illegal search and seizure on his home and his rights have been violated.

He's disgusted, especially because he served his country for 21 years serving in Vietnam and earning several medals for valor.

"When I was 18 years old I took an oath to defend the constitution against foreign and domestic enemies. I think we have some domestic enemies to our constitutional rights," Martin said with tears in his eyes.

The Mesa County Sheriff's Office and the D.A.'s office says they're just upholding the state law as is and if Martin wants to take the fight to the Colorado Supreme Court, he can.

As far as allegations that the sheriff's office used excessive force, officials with the agency say the number of weapons played a role in using the swat team.

"If it happened to me it can happen to any gun owner is Mesa County," said Martin.

He and his family say that's part of the problem, they have to go through the courts. After more than $50,000 in legal fees, they're upset.

They believe there's too much red tape to get a gun for a veteran who made one mistake.

Martin had to sign over his rights to the guns to his wife to get them back.

He has filed a complaint with the Colorado Court of Appeals and depending on the outcome, he may have to take his fight to the Colorado Supreme Court to get his rights restored.

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