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Colorado Democrats will pursue mandatory waiting period for gun buyers, safe-storage measure in 2021

The legislation is modeled after policies passed in other states, but it's sure to draw Republican objections

A gun lock on a pistol at the Meriden Police Department, June 21, 2019. (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP)
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Democratic state lawmakers in Colorado are planning to introduce at least three pieces of gun-control legislation this year, including a measure that would require a waiting period — potentially of five days — between when someone purchases a firearm and when they can access that weapon.

The other two bills would require gun owners to safely store their weapons and to report to authorities if one of their firearms is lost or stolen. 

“This isn’t going to end the crisis of gun violence in our society,” said state Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat whose son, Alex, was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. “But it will help to curtail it.”

While other gun-control policies run by Colorado Democrats in the past decade have been focused on mass shootings, the bills this year mainly are aimed at reducing accidental shootings and suicides, the legislative sponsors say. Sullivan says he will champion the bills enacting a mandatory waiting period and requiring that people report lost or stolen firearms. 

Gun-control legislation used to be a politically fraught topic for Colorado Democrats. In 2012, two Democratic state senators were recalled and a third resigned after lawmakers passed a series of gun-control bills. Republicans also took over the state Senate majority in the wake of measures. 

The Colorado Capitol on Wednesday, July 29, 2020. The 2021 lawmaking term begins on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

But after the 2019 passage of a so-called red flag bill that allows judges to order the temporary seizure of guns from someone who is deemed a risk to themselves or others, Republicans tried to recall several Democratic lawmakers — including Sullivan — and failed. Democrats have retained their statehouse majority and are emboldened to press forward with more new gun regulations.  

The main challenge for the sponsors of the three gun-control bills set to be introduced this year will be convincing their fellow Democrats to vote “yes” on them.

The proposed waiting period in Colorado would be shorter than in other state

Of the three measures set to be introduced this year, the waiting-period bill is likely to be the most controversial.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods that apply to purchase of guns, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Hawaii has the most stringent of those laws, requiring 14 days between when someone buys a gun and when they can access it. In California, the waiting period is 10 days. 

Rep. Steven Woodrow, a Denver Democrat, is working with Sullivan on the waiting-period measure. The plan is to push for a five-day waiting period in Colorado, though that hasn’t been finalized.

“I believe that the data show that waiting-period bills help reduce suicide by firearms as well as overall firearm-related violence,” Woodrow said. 

The RAND Corporation found that waiting periods can have a moderate effect on reducing suicides and other violent crime.

Sullivan pointed to the case of Jennifer Laber as evidence of why waiting-period bills are necessary. The Highlands Ranch mom of two young boys purchased a firearm hours before removing her children from school and then fatally shooting them and herself in the loading dock area of a closed Sports Authority store.

Jennifer Laber purchased a gun on the same day she removed her two young boys from school and then later fatally shot them and herself. This surveillance image shows Laber leaving a school with her boys. (Provided by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office)

He also highlighted the case of Sol Pais, who flew from Florida to Colorado and caused a panic up and down the Front Range because of her alleged infatuation with the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. When Pais arrived in Colorado, she quickly purchased a shotgun. She later died from a self-inflicted gun wound at the base of Mount Evans. 

Sullivan said delaying someone’s ability to access a firearm by even just a few days will make a big difference in stopping suicides.

“If we can keep the most lethal means of them completing that, if we can keep (guns) out of their hands for just a couple of days, there’s a good chance we can save some lives,” he said. 

The National Rifle Association disagrees. The group says “waiting period are arbitrary impositions with no effect on crime or suicide.”

Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican and fierce opponent of firearm regulations, said the bills represent “onerous restrictions” on gun owners.

“I haven’t read the bills, but just from the general concept of it I think it’s very likely that I would be opposed to all of them,” said Rep. Dave Williams, a Colorado Springs Republican. “I don’t think that’s the way we need to address the issue. Violence will happen regardless of the weapons that are available on the street.”

He thinks Colorado voters will push back on Democrats if they are successful in passing the legislation. “If they attempt to engage in this overreach it could very well harm their prospects in 2022,” Williams said.

Safe-storage, reporting bills will be very similar to legislation brought in 2020

Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat, will bring the safe-storage bill. The measure is almost identical to one he introduced last year, which was spiked after the coronavirus pandemic shortened the 2020 lawmaking term. 

The legislation would impose fines and potentially even jail time on gun owners who don’t use a  safe, trigger lock or cable lock when their weapons are being stored. It also would also require gun shops to distribute trigger or cable locks with every sale or transfer of a firearm.

Mullica said the idea is to send a message to gun owners that keeping a firearm under their pillow is not OK. 

“At the end of the day, we really wrote this bill in a way that isn’t infringing on people’s rights,” Mullica said.

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Other states already have safe-storage laws, including Connecticut, California and New York. Even Texas, a conservative, gun-loving state, has statutes aimed at keeping firearms out of the hands of children

The measure requiring gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm is being championed by Sullivan and state Sen.-elect Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Boulder County Democrat. It, too, is modeled after legislation in other states. 

The bill would require gun owners to report a lost or stolen gun to authorities in a set period of time — likely a few days — or else they would face a $25 fine and have committed a petty offense. 

“We know the vast majority of Colorado gun owners are being responsible, but we still have, unfortunately, folks that don’t know where their firearms are,” Jaquez Lewis said. “It’s an awareness bill. It’s an education bill.”

Like the safe-storage bill, the mandatory reporting measure is similar to one brought last year and then spiked because of the pandemic. 

Jaquez Lewis thinks her measure could have prevented the fatal shooting of 21-year-old Isabella Thallas in downtown Denver last year. The alleged gunman is accused of using an AK-47-style rifle that he stole from a Denver police sergeant in the shooting, according to 9News. The gun wasn’t reported missing until after the police sergeant realized it may have been used in a crime, the TV station says.

The main message she is trying to send: “If you have a gun, we’re asking you to know where it is at all times.”

The National Rifle Association opposed both the safe-storage and the mandatory reporting bills last year. Greg Brophy, a former state senator who was representing the group, said the storage requirements criminalizes a law-abiding gun owner’s right to self protection while the reporting mandate could make a criminal out of someone who was the victim of theft. 

Jaquez Lewis said she’s not concerned about political blowback from bringing the measure. 

“I think that the community is asking for this,” she said. “I know my constituents are.”

Sullivan, the state representative whose son was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting, says he is expecting blowback from conservatives. 

Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, speaks at a news conference announcing the “red flag” gun bill on Feb. 14, 2019 inside the state Capitol building in Denver, while members of the group Moms Demand Action stand on the steps behind. Sullivan, who lost his son, Alex, in the Aurora theater shooting, was one of the bill’s primary sponsors. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

“I tell people all the time, ‘I’m planning to get recalled again,’” he said. 

But Sullivan said he’s not worried and the political threats won’t change him or how he thinks and speaks about gun-control legislation.

“I’m not afraid of them,” he said.

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