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Politics and Government

Here’s the gun legislation Colorado Democrats are pursuing in response to the Boulder King Soopers shooting

A measure prohibiting people convicted of a violent misdemeanor from purchasing a firearm for a period of time is likely to be the most controversial of the potential policies

Scenes after a shooting at the Table Mesa Dr. King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday, March 22, 2021. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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A bill that would temporarily prohibit people convicted of a violent misdemeanor from purchasing a firearm in Colorado will likely be part of a package of gun legislation Democratic state lawmakers are preparing to introduce in response to the deadly shooting last month at a Boulder King Soopers.

The package is also slated to include a measure closing the so-called Charleston loophole, which allows gun sellers to transfer a weapon to a buyer after three business days, even if a background check hasn’t been completed. 

Democrats also are pursuing legislation to eliminate a law prohibiting counties and municipalities from enacting gun regulations that are more strict than what’s in state statute. Finally, the package is expected to include money dedicated to gun violence prevention efforts, including a public education campaign to inform Coloradans about the state’s so-called red flag law, which allows a judge to order the temporary seizure of a firearm from someone deemed a risk to themselves or others. 

A measure to ban assault weapons in Colorado is not included in the initial slate of legislation being discussed and it appears unlikely that such a bill will be introduced this year. A state assault weapons ban was floated in the days after the Boulder shooting, but there doesn’t appear to be sufficient support at the Capitol among Democrats to move forward. 

“There’s still a lot of work to do and a lot of details to be figured out,” Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, said during a town hall on Wednesday in which he discussed the coming legislation. 

Fenberg provided more information on the potential bills to The Colorado Sun on Thursday. He said while none of the measures are 100% ironed out yet, they are “the ideas rising to the top.”

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, is pictured in the Senate during the first day of Colorado’s 73rd legislative session at the Colorado Capitol in Denver on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021. (Andy Colwell, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Fenberg is working on the package with other Democratic state lawmakers from Boulder, including state Rep. Judy Amabile.

“Our focus has really been on what saves lives and what is good, smart policy,” Amabile  said during the town hall. “And what can we get enough people behind to actually get it over the line to get it signed into law.”

The new legislation, if it passes, will make the 2021 legislative session in Colorado one of the most significant in terms of gun control bills since 2013, when lawmakers passed a slate of bills after the Aurora theater shooting and the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Democrats are under similar to pressure to act again this year.

The bills are expected to be introduced in the coming days, and opposition is already lining up. 

Temporary fencing around the Table Mesa King Soopers store in Boulder where 10 people were killed on March 22, 2021, has become a place for mourners to post memorials and protest signs. (Steve Peterson, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Greg Brophy, a Republican former state senator and fierce gun rights advocate, said the legislation won’t “do anything to make people safer.”

“One of these proposals would keep a woman who desperately fears for her life from gaining access to a firearm for an untold number of days,” he said. “Another (would allow) municipalities to enact ridiculously strict gun control laws creating a hodgepodge of jurisdictions subjecting travelers to unknown and unknowable legal liability.” 

The potential measure temporarily prohibiting people convicted of a violent misdemeanor from purchasing a firearm would likely be the most controversial piece of legislation in the package. Fenberg said he and others working on the bill are still trying to determine what crimes would constitute violent misdemeanors and for how long someone convicted of such a crime would be prohibited from purchasing a gun.

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Unlike state and federal laws barring people from possessing a gun, the bill would not prohibit people from possessing a gun purchased before they were convicted of a violent misdemeanor.

People are already prohibited under federal and state law from purchasing or possessing a firearm if they are convicted of certain misdemeanors involving domestic violence. Colorado also requires people charged or convicted in domestic assault-related cases to relinquish their weapons to the court.

The proposed Colorado policy isn’t unprecedented. A number of states already prohibit people from accessing guns after certain misdemeanor convictions. 

California and Connecticut, for instance, bar those convicted of some misdemeanors involving violence or misuse of firearms for certain periods of time. Illinois also prohibits firearm access for five years for people with felony or misdemeanor convictions involving battery, assault, aggravated assault or violation of an order of protection in which a firearm was used or possessed.

A pistol, pistol workout trainer, and training simulator pistol are training tools used by staff on the 1770 Armory and gun club for training courses. (Carl Payne, Special to The Colorado Sun)

The 22-year-old Arvada man accused in the Boulder shooting, which left 10 people dead, pleaded guilty to a third-degree misdemeanor assault charge for attacking a classmate at Arvada West High School in 2017. He was sentenced to probation and 48 hours of community service.

The guilty plea in the assault case would not have precluded the gunman from passing a gun-purchase background check. Days before the Boulder shooting, authorities say the gunman legally purchased a high-powered AR-556 pistol at a gun shop in Arvada. 

The same type of weapon was used in the attack. 

“Maybe the misdemeanor itself wasn’t serious, but it can be a sign of someone who has tendencies or is someone who could be violent and they probably shouldn’t have a gun,” Fenberg said.

Democrats also hope to eliminate Colorado’s 2003 law prohibiting counties and municipalities from enacting gun regulations that are more strict than what’s in state statute. That move comes in response to a Boulder assault-weapons ban that was struck down by a state judge just before the King Soopers shooting. The Boulder ban would not have affected the shooting because the gun used in the attack appears to have been purchased in Arvada. 

Xanthe Thomason, left, consoles her wife, Dana Derichsweiler, right, during a vigil at the Boulder County Courthouse on March 24, 2021 for victims of the Table Mesa King Soopers shooting. They own The Walnut Cafe, which has a location in the same shopping complex as the grocery store where 10 people died. (Hugh Carey, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“That’s something that we’re very interested in repealing to make sure governments like Boulder, like Denver, can actually have common-sense gun regulations that go above and beyond what the state does,” Fenberg said. 

Democrats have passed two gun control bills this year at the Colorado Capitol. One requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to authorities within five days of realizing it’s missing. Another mandates that guns be stored in a safe or with a trigger or cable lock when they are in a place where children or someone prohibited from accessing firearms are, will be or could be present.

Both bills were signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis. No Republican voted in favor of either measure, which were introduced before the Boulder shooting.

Another pending measure, House Bill 1255, would require people who are subject to a civil protection order because of domestic abuse to submit to a judge, within seven business days,  an affidavit including a list of the type and number of firearms they own, as well as the weapons’ location. The legislation is aimed at ensuring those charged or convicted of domestic abuse relinquish their firearms.

Lawmakers were also planning before the Boulder shooting to introduce legislation mandating a waiting period between when someone purchases a firearm and when they can access the weapon. That measure, however, was supposed to be unveiled weeks ago.

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