As the Colorado legislative season begins anew, we are, in many ways, right back where we left off when the last session closed.
See if the issues in play sound familiar: water conservation and distribution, further cementing of abortion-access laws, TABOR refund trade-offs, public education funding, affordable housing, personal property tax relief, inflation and climate change.
Oh, yes, and gun-safety laws. And more gun-safety laws. But maybe not as many gun-safety laws as we need.
The history of gun laws in Colorado directly reflects the recent history of gun violence in the state, particularly the history of mass gun violence, starting with Columbine and, most recently, at Club Q. And the passage of such laws also reflects whether Democrats are in control of the legislature. After last November’s Democratic rout, they have unprecedented control of both houses.
And then there are the contributing factors, like the story of the two firearms stolen from a state legislator’s truck last week parked just outside the Capitol. Freshman Rep. Ron Weinberg, a Loveland Republican who hadn’t yet been sworn in at the time of the theft, said the guns were unloaded and had trigger locks, which would, in theory, prevent them from being fired. And Weinberg said that if the guns fell into the wrong hands “it would haunt me for the rest of my life.”
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But he also conceded that even though the guns were locked, the truck might not have been. And as far as I know, he wasn’t asked why he thought it was a good idea to bring guns to the Capitol in the first place. I’ll wait for Lauren Boebert to weigh in on that one.
House Speaker Julie McCluskie was quick to make use of the theft to promote the session’s gun-safety proposals, calling Weinberg’s actions “irresponsible” and saying, “This is exactly … why we will introduce life-saving measures this session to reduce gun violence and improve safety in our communities.”
And, of course, there is the far more shocking story out of Virginia in which a 6-year-old took a loaded gun from his backpack — a gun he apparently brought from his home — and used it to shoot his first-grade teacher, who is now in stable condition. After Sandy Hook, we asked why anyone would shoot up a classroom of first graders. Now we ask how and why a first-grader could shoot a teacher.
As we remember, five were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the Club Q shooting, an attack by — yes — yet another disturbed young person. And it just so happened that the shooter’s mental and legal history made them the perfect candidate for the application of Colorado’s 2019 red flag law, which would have allowed a judge to confiscate their guns.
The problem was that no one took the shooter’s case to a judge to see if they qualified as a danger to themselves and others. (Hint: They clearly did.) Not El Paso County law enforcement, which considers the county a Second Amendment Sanctuary. And not the shooter’s family, which may simply have been too frightened to pursue the matter.
And so, clearly the law — if you’re going to have such a law at all — needs reform. If the law wasn’t applied to the Club Q shooter — who the year before had a standoff with cops after threatening their mother and grandparents, even as they vowed to become Colorado’s next mass killer — the question becomes: When would you use it?
And Rep. Tom Sullivan, who came to the legislature after his son Alex was killed at the Aurora theater shooting, is once again leading the way to writing new red flag legislation. One obvious improvement would be to expand the number of people who could petition a judge to include, say, health care workers, teachers, social workers and physicians.
I’m assuming that the red flag expansion will be a slam dunk. But not all the proposals will be. Democrats will seek to increase waiting periods in order to purchase a gun — especially given that gun-related suicides outnumber gun-related homicides in America — and also to raise the age for purchasing a long gun. One must be 21 to buy a handgun, but only 18 to buy a long gun. There’s also the issue of so-called “ghost guns,” which apparently the Club Q shooter had produced.
And then there’s the proposal that isn’t yet a proposal and, if it becomes one, would be far from a sure thing — and that would be the banning of the sale, and in some cases, possession of a so-called assault rifle. I say “so-called” because definitions tend to vary depending on who is doing the defining. And so often we use “assault-style weapons.”
Not all that surprisingly, Democrats weren’t ready to discuss the issue. A draft titled “Mass Shooting Prevention Act of 2023” had apparently been leaked to the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the far-right gun lobbyists. The sponsors, Democratic Reps. Andrew Boesenecker and Elisabeth Epps, suggested they’d be prepared to discuss the issue next week.
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A likely bigger problem for passage than the gun lobbyists, though, is the governor, Jared Polis, who notably didn’t endorse Joe Biden’s call for an assault-style weapon ban. Polis did say he would support tougher licensing procedures for purchasing such a weapon, but that’s as far as he has gone. And if you want to know just how controversial such a bill would be, one of the sponsors, Rep. Boesenecker, did say, “We’ll make sure that the safety of Coloradans is number one. However, we are also not willing to sacrifice the Second Amendment God-given rights of our citizens.”
I’m not sure that God actually had anything to do with granting gun rights. I checked, and there seems to be no Second Amendment language anywhere in the Bible or in the Ten Commandments, possibly because there weren’t any guns at the time.
But when it’s the bill’s sponsor bringing God into the legislative mix when the governor is not at all likely to sign such a bill, it would probably take, as they say, an act of God to turn a proposed assault-style weapons ban into law.
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