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Finnegan Daly, seen here atop Mount Evans, died Jan. 14, 2018, from a gunshot wound at an off-campus house near the Colorado State University campus. The 21-year-old was entering the spring semester of his senior year. (Provided by Regina Daly)

FORT COLLINS – Regina Daly never really liked guns, but she tolerated them. Then her son, a senior at Colorado State University, died at the end of a Glock 34 semi-automatic pistol owned by his roommate.

Much of what happened on the January 2018 night that Finnegan Daly was shot remains unclear, but Daly told a Larimer County judge it redefined her life. “I wasn’t anti-2A before, but now I will spend every last day of my life lending my voice to the gun control movement. Not one more,” she said.

Her vow came on Wednesday, during an emotional sentencing hearing for the 22-year-old roommate, Colemann Carver, on charges related to the shooting. She told the court she blames an addiction to “human hunting machines” and a broader gun culture embodied by the National Rifle Association.

The irony of it all: The NRA likely will benefit financially from the death of her son.

The terms of the deal crafted by prosecutors in the 8th Judicial District include a requirement that Carver complete an NRA firearms safety course within a year. The mandate drew skepticism from the judge during Carver’s sentencing, and a Colorado Sun review suggests it’s an outlier compared with sentences in other jurisdictions.

Finnegan Daly, seen here atop Mount Evans, died Jan. 14, 2018, from a gunshot wound at an off-campus house near the Colorado State University campus. The 21-year-old was entering the spring semester of his senior year. (Provided by Regina Daly)

The provision is just one reason why the Daly family opposed the sentencing agreement accepted by 8th Judicial District Judge Susan Blanco. Under the deal, Carver pleaded guilty to felony tampering with evidence and received a two-year deferred sentence that will allow him to clear his record if he completes the terms.

Regina Daly told the judge that “any money given to the NRA surrounding the death of Finnegan is intolerable — intolerable and abusive.”

The charges against Carver came after the Daly family insisted that the Fort Collins police reopen the investigation, citing a key piece of missing evidence: a Snapchat image that showed Carver holding the Glock 34 and two other guns minutes before the shooting and Finnegan Daly in the foreground holding another handgun owned by his roommate.

Carver told police that Daly picked up the gun and shot himself, but other elements of his statement changed in the second investigation or were contradicted by the evidence. Both were drinking alcohol that night, according to reports. The police initially ruled Daly’s death accidental, but the family disputes the findings of the case and the lesser charges filed by prosecutors.

District attorney defends NRA requirement in plea

In Colorado, district attorneys hold broad authority to craft plea agreements tailored to the nature of the case, as long as both sides agree to the terms. 

The requirement for the NRA gun safety class came from the deal presented by District Attorney Clifford Riedel’s office. It acknowledges that the resolution of the case allows Carver to own and use guns once the two-year term of his probation ends. The course is needed to make sure “if and when he has access to firearms again, he uses them more responsibly than he did that night,” Deputy District Attorney Ashley Barber told the judge.

The home firearms safety course identified by prosecutors is taught by an NRA-certified instructor and the organization receives proceeds for the use of its curriculum and materials. The four-hour training, according to the NRA, takes place in a classroom and teaches how to safely handle and store guns, the leading causes of firearm accidents and “the benefits to becoming an active participant in the shooting sports.”

To Regina Daly, the NRA is the problem, not part of the solution. In her remarks before the sentencing, she pointed to the government probes of the gun organization’s tax finances and role in the 2016 election as a “foreign asset” for Russia.

“I am so sick and tired of the guns and people addicted to human hunting machines. The NRA and the perversion they have expounded upon the Second Amendment is just hideous,” she said.

The district attorney’s office told the Daly family that the requirement for an NRA course was “in no way political.” And Barber explained to the judge that she wanted Carver to attend an in-person class focused on safety, rather than an online course or one to obtain a concealed-carry permit.

The judge appeared concerned about mandating an NRA course, pressing the prosecutors to find an alternative. “Is there anywhere else he can complete a firearms safety course, so he is not giving money to the NRA, out of respect to the victim’s family?” Blanco asked Barber.

Both the prosecutor and defense attorney said they could not find a similar class hosted by another organization near Carver’s home in Cortez. Frustrated, the judge told Carver she preferred that he attend a course not associated with the NRA, but didn’t make it a requirement. The limited availability means it’s likely Carver will take one of the group’s courses.

A Snapchat image, taken by Finnegan Daly before his death in January 2018, shows his former roommate, Colemann Carver, with two firearms in his hands and one across his chest. Daly’s hand holds another handgun in the foreground. The image helped investigators reopen the case into Daly’s death. (Courtesy of John Bucolo)

NRA is a dominant player in training, but not the only option

The decision to mandate a course from one organization is unusual. The NRA is a dominant player in the training field, but it is merely one of a handful of entities that certify firearms instructors to meet state standards. Likewise, other organizations and businesses host an assortment of safety classes, ranging from one-on-one training to large classroom sessions, according to online searches and interviews with several instructors in Colorado.

Rick Sindeband is a certified instructor through the NRA and the U.S. Concealed Carry Association who has conducted numerous court-ordered firearms training classes. He said the sponsor for the course isn’t typically mandated, but he often uses an NRA class curriculum when he teaches the classes. “It’s pretty hard to get away from them when you’re talking about getting some firearms training that has some backbone and is credible,” he said.

The Sun contacted district attorneys across the state regarding plea agreements in firearms cases, and the handful that replied suggested mandating a specific course is not typical.  None of those that responded could cite a similar situation.

Sue Lindsay, a spokeswoman for the 17th Judicial District attorney’s office in Adams and Broomfield counties, said it is not standard practice to require firearms training in similar cases but plea deals vary based on the circumstances.

Even in Larimer County, it’s an anomaly. Jodi Lacey, the spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, could not recall a similar requirement. “It depends on the situation. Every situation is different.”

“We have suffered and now we completely understand”

Regina Daly left the sentencing hearing exasperated. She said she appreciated the judge acknowledging the family’s concerns about the NRA course, but remained frustrated that the prosecution didn’t budge on its parameters as part of the plea deal.

The evolution from grieving mother to the growing ranks of gun control activists is a well-worn path for many families affected by gun violence. For Daly, it started with a quest for answers about her son’s death amid the first error-prone police investigation.

The fact that Carver, then 20 and working for a relative’s landscaping company, owned four guns and kept them at an off-campus house he shared with at least three other roommates troubled her. So she began to explore the broader culture that promoted guns and soon focused her ire on the NRA.

It’s an issue she thinks about every day now. “Because Finnegan is a victim of gun violence, it ricochets into the family,” Regina Daly explained in an interview before the court hearing. “When you start reading and doing more research and realize 100 people a day lose their lives to a bullet, you realize you’re not the only one and not the only family suffering.”

The Las Vegas mass shooting took place a month after her son’s death. And plenty more followed. She told the judge that each one shakes her, and it’s why she wants to dedicate her time to gun control efforts.

“We have suffered,” she said, “and now we completely understand.”

John Frank

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.