by Sara Wilson, Colorado Newsline
Colorado Democrats unveiled a highly-anticipated slate of bills Thursday that aim to curb gun violence in the state by restricting who can possess a firearm and when they can purchase one.
“Our guiding principle while crafting these pieces of legislation has been very, very simple. What can we do right now that will save the most lives in Colorado tomorrow? Using that as our North Star, we have coalesced around a historic slate of bills,” Senate President Steve Fenberg said Thursday at the Capitol.
Democrats will run bills that would raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21 years old, require a three-day waiting period for firearm purchases, remove the state’s immunity protections for the firearm industry and expand who can file a “red flag” petition to remove firearms from potentially unsafe people.
These types of gun regulation policies were an expected headline item for Democrats in the Legislature this year, following the Club Q shooting last fall and a general rise in firearm-related deaths in the state. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, House Speaker Julie McCluskie and Fenberg all touched on the subject in their first major speeches of the session.
Democrats enjoy large majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
These bills, Fenberg said, come after months of conversation with stakeholders and gun violence survivors to make sure they are both effective and enforceable.
“In a civilized society, people expect the freedom to live with basic security and safety. Right now, we are failing to provide those rights for our citizens,” he said.
The slate of bills do not include an assault weapons ban or regulation of ghost guns, which earlier in the session had been discussed among some lawmakers. State Sen. Rhonda Fields shares her experience of losing a son to gun violence during a gun prevention town hall at First Baptist Church in Denver, Feb. 8, 2023. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)
DAs could file red flag petition
One of the bills would expand the state’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law, also known as the red flag law, which was originally passed in 2019. Right now, family members, roommates and law enforcement are the only people who can ask a judge to order the temporary seizure of someone’s gun if that person seems to be a risk to themselves or others.
The bill would extend the list of eligible petitioners to include district attorneys, educators, health care providers and mental health professionals. It doesn’t change the ERPO process, just who can pursue one. It is set to be sponsored by Fenberg, Sen. Tom Sullivan of Centennial, Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon of Denver, and Rep. Mike Weissman of Aurora.
Sullivan’s son was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. The gunman in that shooting was being treated by a mental health care professional who knew that he was having homicidal thoughts.
“I believe if this 2023 version had been in effect prior to the tragedy of July 20, 2012, we could have had a chance to change the most horrific night in Colorado history,” Sullivan said, at times battling tears as he spoke about his mission in the Legislature to save people from gun violence.
From 18 to 21
Another bill would raise the age to purchase or possess all firearms to 21. Under current law, individuals must be 18 to purchase a long gun and 21 to buy a handgun. The bill makes exceptions for the increased age requirement for law enforcement on duty, members of the military, hunters who have a license and have completed a safety course, antique weapons collectors and people between 18 and 21 years old under supervision from a parent or guardian.
It will be sponsored by Sen. Jessie Danielson of Wheat Ridge, Sen. Kyle Mullica of Thornton, House Majority Leader Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Rep. Eliza Hamrick of Centennial. Duran cited rising statistics for firearm suicide among 18- to 21-year-olds.
“Why wouldn’t we do something to curb that?” she said. Caso’s Gun-A-Rama, seen here on Feb. 11, 2023, has been open since 1967. (Aristide Economopoulos for NJ Monitor)
Also on the docket is a bill that would require a three-day waiting period between when someone buys a gun and when they can take it home, a policy that researchers say reduce homicide and suicide with guns. It will be sponsored by Rep. Meg Froelich of Englewood, Rep. Judy Amabile of Boulder, Sen. Chris Hansen of Denver and Sullivan.
Amabile spoke about the time her son contemplated suicide and went to purchase a firearm in a moment of crisis. The gun shop ended up not selling it to him after she and her husband pleaded for them to not go through with the purchase.
“We got lucky. My kid is still alive,” she said. “I believe this three-day waiting period is going to have a huge impact on families. It isn’t going to save everybody, but it is going to save people who are in my son’s situation — and there’s a lot of them — who have a moment when they think ‘I can’t handle this anymore’ and they go get a gun and then they’re dead.”
The final bill Democrats included in the package is one that would strip the firearm industry in the state of its immunity from most civil lawsuits and get rid of a provision that requires defendants to pay the legal fees in dismissed cases.
It will be sponsored by Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont, Sen. Chris Kolker of Centennial, Rep. Javier Mabrey of Denver and Rep. Jennifer Parenti of Erie. State Rep. Javier Mabrey listens during a gun violence prevention town hall at First Baptist Church in Denver on Feb. 8, 2023. (Kevin Mohatt for Colorado Newsline)
Changed tone in the Legislature
There is already fierce opposition from the Republican caucus and gun-rights advocates over the proposed policies.
“We are planning to turn this building into a circus and make sure these legislators — these tyrants — who are stealing your freedom know we are not going to back down,” Taylor Rhodes, the executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, told reporters. “We will mount one of the largest opposition campaigns this state has ever seen.”
He said his group also plans to challenge any passed legislation in court and feels confident they will be successful. Last year, a federal judge in Texas ruled that a state law banning 18- to 20-year-olds from carrying handguns in public was unconstitutional.
House Minority Leader Mike Lynch called the slate of bills an “overreaction” and assault on constitutional rights. He took particular issue with the red flag law expansion bill and the minimum age bill, arguing that it could affect rural Coloradans who use firearms to protect their land and animals from predators.
“They mentioned this as a monumental, historic day for Colorado, and a lot of me agrees with that because this is the biggest single, unified effort to attack Second Amendment rights that we’ve seen probably in Colorado history,” he said.
He said the Republican caucus will mount as strong an opposition to the bills as they can, including filibustering and pushing for various amendments.
“We’re a small number with a few tools, and we’ll exercise every one of them,” he said, adding that the introduction of the bills changes the tone of the legislative session and might dampen potential cooperation between the parties.
“There’s not a whole lot we can come to the middle with this,” he said. “I was hoping we could get more of the things we agree on taken care of before we drop this. It could make the other half of the session really cumbersome.”
This story was written by Sara Wilson, a reporter at the Colorado Newsline, where this story first appeared.
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