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Politics and Government

Colorado congressman wants to close gap in interstate gun sales law that allowed Florida teen quick access to shotgun

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow has offered legislation that would change federal law to require shotguns and rifles sold to someone from out of state to be shipped to their home state -- just like handguns are.

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Colorado U.S. Rep. Jason Crow has introduced a bill in Congress aiming to standardize federal law surrounding gun sales to out-of-state residents in response to a case that prompted the closure of schools across the Front Range last month.

The measure, which faces slim odds for passage because of Republican control of the U.S. Senate, would require that shotguns and rifles purchased by a person visiting another state be shipped to a gun store where they live, just as handguns are, before they can access the weapon.

The Aurora Democrat says the legislation is inspired by the case of Sol Pais, a Florida teen who last month traveled to Colorado and was able to quickly buy a shotgun. The 18-year-old was “infatuated” with the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, authorities said, prompting school closures in the Denver area and beyond and a massive search for her by law enforcement.

She was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. An autopsy determined that Pais had committed suicide in the mountains west of Denver before the search for her began.

But Crow says the situation revealed a gap in federal law.

“After this incident occurred last month, we just raised the obvious question: How could a young, disturbed woman from Florida get on a plane, fly into (Denver International Airport), get off the plane and go to a gun store and buy a shotgun and buy a bunch of ammunition and then walk out with that gun the same day?” Crow said. “How could that happen?”

He called the difference between the way federal law deals with interstate sales of rifles and shotguns and handguns a “loophole.” Crow’s bill is just 15-words long, a common-sense fix, he said.

When selling long guns, dealers under federal law are required to abide by laws both in the purchaser’s home state and the state they are in when they purchase a weapon. In Florida, people must be 21 or older to purchase a rifle or shotgun, and yet Pais still was able to buy a gun in Colorado, where 18-year-olds are legally allowed to buy long guns.

Crow says that the way federal law is currently written, gun dealers are supposed to be familiar with the firearms laws of all 50 states — a process he thinks is too complicated. His legislation would leave the final decision on a sale up to a gun store in the purchaser’s home state who is more familiar with local regulations.

“Simplifying the issue is really important,” Crow said. “No gun dealer in Colorado, or any place else for that matter, should be in the position of having to interpret the laws of all 50 states.”

U.S. Rep. Jason Crow on the campaign trail in 2018. He ran on a pro-gun control agenda, calling for a ban on military and assault style weapons and universal background checks for firearm purchase. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Crow’s office had been working on the legislation for weeks before Tuesday’s school shooting in Highlands Ranch, which left one student dead and eight more wounded. They do not yet have a Republican co-sponsor on the measure, though he is working to secure one.

The bill cannot pass the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate without some GOP support. That gives the measure a steep, if not impossible, hill to climb.

The congressman says he is examining the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, which is located in his district, to see what legislation might be passed to prevent a similar tragedy.

“We just don’t know what has happened yet, that information isn’t available,” he said. “I try to work off of facts and things that we know. I will say that like any incident that happens, there are always lessons that can be learned.”

Crow was elected to his first term in 2018, running on a pro-gun control platform that included support for federal laws mandating universal background checks, limits on the number of bullets in magazines, a red flag law to allow judges to order the seizure of guns from someone deemed a significant risk to themselves or others, and a ban on military and assault-style weapons.

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