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People visit and add to the shrine memorializing the victims of a mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers store in Boulder on March 22, 2021. (Jeremy Sparig, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Democrats on Thursday formally introduced three anticipated gun control bills in response to the Boulder King Soopers mass shooting.

The measures would require that a background check be completed before any firearm purchase, regardless of how long it takes, and prohibit people convicted of certain misdemeanors from buying a gun for five years. They would also give local governments and public colleges and universities authority to enact gun control measures that are more strict than the state’s.

Finally, the legislation would create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

But the details of how each of the three policies would work are important. 

The Colorado Sun combed through the bills, which would go into effect immediately after being signed into law, to figure out what they would actually do: 

Senate Bill 256: Ending the local preemption ban

This measure would allow local governments, public higher education institutions and special districts to enact gun control policies that are more stringent than what’s written in state law. 

Democrats are pushing for the bill because a few days before the Boulder King Soopers shooting, a 2018 ordinance banning the sale and possession of assault weapons in Boulder was struck down by a state judge. The judge ruled the ordinance was in conflict with a 2003 law, passed in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, preempting local governments from going above and beyond state gun control measures. 

Senate Bill 256 would eliminate that 2003 restriction and also clarify that no local government, public college or university or special districts could enact a gun policy that’s less restrictive than what’s in state law.

Another critical change flying under the radar is that the legislation would allow the governing boards of public colleges and universities to ban people from carrying concealed weapons on campus. 

In 2012, the Colorado Supreme Court rejected the University of Colorado’s effort to ban concealed weapons on its campuses, citing the 2003 preemption law. State lawmakers in 2013 briefly debated a bill to ban concealed guns on public college and university campuses, but it was shelved because the sponsors didn’t have enough support.

House Bill 1298: Closing the Charleston loophole and expanding who can’t buy guns

This legislation would close the so-called Charleston loophole by requiring gun dealers to complete a background check on a gun buyer before transferring a weapon to them. While Colorado has universal background checks, federal law allows guns to be transferred to buyers after three days if the background check hasn’t been completed. 

The bill would also prohibit people from purchasing a gun if they have been convicted of certain misdemeanors within the past five years. 

A gun lock on a pistol at the Meriden Police Department, June 21, 2019. (Dave Zajac/Record-Journal via AP)

The Colorado misdemeanors that would preclude people from purchasing a gun include: 

  • Third-degree assault
  • Sexual assault
  • Unlawful sexual contact
  • Child abuse
  • Violation of a protection order
  • A crime against an at-risk person
  • Harassment
  • A bias-motivated crime
  • Cruelty to animals
  • Possession of an illegal weapon
  • Unlawfully providing a firearm other than a handgun to a juvenile

People convicted of similar crimes in another state would also be prohibited from purchasing a gun for five years.

Anyone convicted of a felony offense is already barred from purchasing a gun. 

This measure is a direct response to how the alleged Boulder gunman was able to legally purchase a gun from a store in Arvada despite pleading guilty to third-degree assault for attacking a high school classmate in 2017

Eagles Nest Armory gun shop seen on March 24, 2021, in Arvada. The alleged Boulder gunman purchased a high-powered AR-556 pistol from the store before the shooting. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

House Bill 1299: Creating the Office of Gun Violence Prevention

This bill would create the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. 

In addition to an executive director, the agency would be required, at minimum, to have one full-time employee for the 2021-22 fiscal year that begins in July. Then, starting in July 2022, the agency must have at least two full-time employees.

The office’s task? To “increase the awareness of, and educate the general public about, state and federal laws and existing resources relating to gun-violence prevention.” That includes how to safely store guns, how to report a lost or stolen weapon, how to access mental health care and how to utilize Colorado’s red flag law.

“The office may use television messaging, radio broadcasts, print media, digital strategies or another other form of messaging deemed effective and appropriate,” the bill says.

If the agency has money available, it can write grants to organizations to work on local gun-violence prevention programs.

The bill calls for $3 million to be allocated to the Office of Gun Violence Prevention for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....