A host of changes to Colorado’s gun laws, from a ban on so-called assault weapons to tweaks to the existing red flag law, are already being considered by Democrats at the state Capitol in response to the shooting last month at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
“Pretty much everything is on the table,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat. “The question now is: What seems like a priority?”
Democrats will return to the Colorado Capitol in early January with expanded majorities in both the House and Senate and facing pressure to act after the state’s latest mass shooting. Five people were killed and more than a dozen others wounded in a Nov. 19 attack on Club Q allegedly carried out by a 22-year-old shooter armed with a semi-automatic, AR-15-style rifle.
Gun policy could be the first big test of Democrats’ expanded majorities at the Capitol next year. Memories of the 2013 recalls of Democratic lawmakers over tougher gun regulations adopted in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting certainly remain, but Colorado is a different state politically than it was a decade ago, and the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are almost guaranteed until January 2027.
“Clearly, mental stability is a significant contributing factor,” Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, a group that pushes for tighter firearm regulations, said in a written statement, “but even as hard as it is to address legislatively, we must face the elephant in the room: assault weapons.”
Adam Shore, the group’s executive director, said Colorado needs “to get to the root of what is driving these individuals to kill others, while simultaneously reducing the mayhem by ensuring that these weapons of war are confined to where they truly belong — the battlefield.”
Auon’tai “Tay” Anderson, a Denver Public Schools board member, posted on Twitter that Democrats should immediately use their majority at the Capitol to pass a so-called assault weapons ban.
“If folks refuse to act, vote them out,” Anderson tweeted.
Fenberg, who said gun control conversations were underway even before the Club Q shootings, said a ban on so-called assault weapons is certainly a possibility. The challenge is figuring out how to write the complicated policy, including how to define what an assault weapon is, what should happen to such weapons that are already in the possession of Colorado residents and how to address people traveling to neighboring states to purchase weapons that would be prohibited in Colorado.
“I’ve always said that I support an assault weapons ban,” he said. “I don’t think in this day and age it makes sense that people can purchase weapons of war. It’s something (where) we have to make sure the policy is right. I think there’s still ongoing conversations about what the policy would be.”
It’s more likely that Democrats pursue other changes to Colorado’s gun laws first, such as raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle or shotgun to 21 from 18. The minimum age to purchase handguns in Colorado is already 21.
Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, California, Rhode Island and New York are among the states where it is illegal to purchase any firearm if you are younger than 21.
Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat who won election to a state Senate seat in November, is working on changing the minimum age to purchase a gun. He initially wanted to raise the age only for so-called assault weapons, but thinks a broader change would be easier.
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“That kind of will save us having to come up with a definition of what assault weapons are,” said Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. “And that seems to be the consensus that we’re hearing from the rest of the caucus.”
Sullivan feels the legislature should have raised the minimum age to purchase rifles and shotguns last year.
“We had the votes, we had it put together but our leadership and the governor wouldn’t allow that to happen last year,” Sullivan said.
There are already discussions happening as well about enacting a waiting period between when someone purchases a weapon and can access it, mirroring policies in states including California and Hawaii, which have 10- and 14-day waiting periods, respectively. Illinois has a 72-hour waiting period between when someone can purchase a firearm and then access it.
There have been reports that the Club Q shooter may have used “ghost guns,” or homemade firearms that don’t have serial numbers, in the attack. Sullivan said he wants to pursue legislation to regulate those, too.
Colorado already requires universal background checks on all gun purchases and has laws limiting gun magazines to 15 rounds and requiring the safe storage of firearms. People whose guns are lost or stolen must make a report with law enforcement, as well, and there is a statute temporarily barring people convicted of certain violent misdemeanors from purchasing firearms.
Colorado counties and municipalities are also now allowed to enact gun regulations that are more stringent than the state’s policies after the legislature in 2021 repealed a preemption law.
When it comes to the red flag law, a 2019 policy that lets judges order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others, the changes being discussed have to do with expanding who can request a seizure. Right now, law enforcement and family members are effectively the only groups allowed to petition a judge to order a seizure.
Gov. Jared Polis has expressed support for adding district attorneys to the list, while others have suggested the attorney general’s office and teachers should be allowed to request seizures as well.
“We’re certainly going to take a hard look at why the red flag law wasn’t used in this case, in the case of the King Soopers shooter,” Polis told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Polis, a Democrat, has been more supportive since the Club Q shooting of changing the red flag law and making sure that Coloradans know about it, as well as bolstering mental health offerings, than expanding the list of gun laws the state already has.
“In Colorado, we have a magazine limit — no more than 15 bullets in a magazine — so, effectively, it reduces the ability of high-powered weapons to do harm,” Polis told NBC News when discussing the prospect of a ban on so-called assault weapons.
Polis said he’d support a national effort to require additional licensure or background checks for people trying to purchase “some of the most high-powered weapons.” President Joe Biden has called for a ban on so-called assault weapons in the wake of the Club Q shooting.
Authorities haven’t provided details about the weapons used in the Club Q shooting.
Sullivan feels it would be better for a ban on so-called assault weapons to be pursued on the federal level, since Congress has more resources. He also pointed out that assault-style weapons aren’t used in the vast majority of firearm deaths in the U.S.
“You’re talking to somebody whose son was murdered by a guy with an assault-style firearm,” he said. “I know what it can do. But what happened to us is the one-off of the day-to-day gun violence that impacts our community.”
Incoming House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat who is still getting her leadership bearings, said her caucus has “talked about having a conversation.”
“I anticipate that just as after the Boulder shooting we will take the time to engage,” she said, referencing the 2021 attack on the Table Mesa King Soopers that left 10 people dead.
The legislature reconvenes on Jan. 9.