By Patty Niebert, The Associated Press/Report for America
Colorado Republicans voiced adamant opposition during a House debate about a proposed bill that would require firearms not in use to be stored securely in order to prevent children and teens from accessing the weapons.
Republican House members spent roughly 10 hours opposing the bill and argued that it conflicts with the Second Amendment by restricting when firearm owners can use their gun. They also criticized the legislation as being punitive, saying it could criminalize responsible gun owners.
If the bill passes, it will go through another formal reading in the House where it is likely to pass with Democrats holding the majority. It would then go to the Democrat-majority Senate before it could head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.
Under the measure, unlawful storage of the firearm would be considered a misdemeanor and carry a fine between $250 and $1,000.
The bill, which would take effect in July if it passes, would also require licensed gun dealers to provide a locking device when selling or transferring firearms. Not complying would be a misdemeanor with up to a $500 fine.
Federal law requires licensed importers, manufacturers and dealers to sell or transfer guns with locking devices. However, those rules do not apply to private sellers and do not require use of the safety device.
There are 12 states with laws concerning firearm locking devices and safe storage and 27 states and D.C. have enacted child firearm access prevention laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Democratic Reps. Kyle Mullica and Monica Duran, two of the bill’s sponsors, brought the proposal with the hopes of reducing accidental firearm homicide and suicide among youth.
Mullica addressed concerns that the measure would limit gun rights by reiterating a part of the bill that states safe storage does not apply if the firearm is on or near an owner who can “readily retrieve and use the firearm.”
Duran said that states with similar laws regulating gun storage in households with minors had a 13% reduction of firearm fatalities in children under 15.
Republican Rep. Mark Baisley called the legislation a “misplaced solution” to youth suicide prevention.
Restricting access to lethal suicide methods like firearms can help reduce suicide rates and make it more likely that the person will delay or survive a suicide attempt, according to a 2012 report by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.
A 2017 study analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System found that across the U.S., approximately 19 children a day die or are medically treated for a gunshot wound. The majority are 13- to 17-year-old African American boys for firearm homicides and white and Native American children in firearm suicides.
The report also found that Western states had some of the highest rates of firearm suicides among youth.
Between 2009 and 2019, there were approximately 31 Colorado teens and young adults under 20 that were involved in firearm suicides each year, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
GOP Rep. Patrick Neville brought his own locking device to show how long it takes to unlock and load a gun. He joined other Republicans in calling the bill “denied defense” — citing instances of home intruders and domestic violence where quick access to a firearm could be life-saving for self-defense.
“I’m afraid that this bill will cost lives. If you know about weapons and you know about hazard situations — you know you need quick access, easy access,” said Republican Rep. Shane Sandridge, a former police officer.
Republicans also argued that education is the best prevention tool against the misuse of firearms.
The bill would also require that the state health department’s Office of Suicide Prevention create an education campaign that addresses Colorado rules on firearm safety, including safe storage.
The office currently partners with the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition which includes local retailers, range owners, safety instructors, and prevention professionals. Together they have developed community-based options for temporary and voluntary gun storage with police departments and gun retailers.
The bill also requires the state court administrator to send an annual report to the general assembly about the number and type of charges related to unsafe gun storage.
Patty Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.