A Highlands Ranch mother purchased a 9mm Glock handgun, picked up her 5-year-old son from kindergarten and killed him, his 3-year-old brother and herself in the loading dock of a shuttered Sports Authority store.
The tragedy unfolded over the span of just a few hours on a day in November 2016.
Colorado lawmakers want to prevent a similar series of events from happening with such haste and ease ever again, and so this week Democrats will introduce a bill that would enact a three-day waiting period between when someone purchases a gun and when they can access the weapon, mirroring policies that have been adopted in other states.
“It’s giving people the opportunity to take a breath,” said Sen. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat whose son, Alex, was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting and who will be a lead sponsor of the legislation. “We know that when people decide to kill themselves with a firearm, sometimes they spend less than 20 minutes making that decision.
A simple interruption in someone’s plan can save a life, Sullivan said.
“Although firearms are used less than 10% of the time in suicides, they have a success ratio of over 90%,” he said.
The waiting-period bill, expected to be formally unveiled this week in the House, is part of a package of gun control measures Democrats are planning to introduce at the Capitol this year. Other legislation will seek to raise the age to purchase rifles and shotguns to 21 to match the policy for handguns, regulate homemade firearms that lack serial numbers — also known as “ghost guns” — and make it easier to sue gun manufacturers and sellers. Additionally, there will be a measure introduced that would expand who can petition a judge to order the temporary seizure of someone’s guns under the state’s so-called red flag law.
Several Democrats are also mulling whether to introduce a bill banning the sale and transfer of so-called assault weapons, which draft legislation defines as semi-automatic rifles and pistols with certain features. “If we do get the language right, you’ll see it. If we’re not able to get the language and the content right, you won’t see it,” Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat and one of the lead sponsors of the prospective legislation, said at an event earlier this month.
Rep. Meg Froelich, an Englewood Democrat and another lead sponsor of the waiting-period bill, said Democrats will continue pursuing gun regulations “until we don’t need to do it anymore.”
“There are about 10, 12 things you can do to reduce gun violence, and we’ve done a couple of them. We’re gonna do a couple more,” said Froelich, who is part of a new gun violence prevention caucus at the legislature. “We’re going to go about it in a kind of methodical way. The ultimate goal is to recognize that this is a public health crisis and to just, at the end of the day, save lives.”
Proponents of waiting periods, also known as “cooling-off periods,” say they can prevent impulsive homicides and suicides. Nine states and the District of Columbia already have waiting periods for gun purchases, according to Giffords, a group that pushes for tougher firearm regulations, though the policies differ from state to state.
Hawaii has the longest waiting period, at 14 days, followed by California and Washington, D.C., at 10 days.
In Rhode Island, people must wait seven days after purchasing a firearm to gain access to it. Florida requires three days between when someone purchases a gun and can access it. In Illinois, gun purchasers wait 72 hours.
Minnesota has a seven-day waiting period for handguns and so-called assault weapons, while Washington had a 10-day waiting period for semi-automatic rifles. Maryland and New Jersey each require a seven-day waiting period for handgun purchases.
The forthcoming Colorado bill would apply to all firearms. If a background check takes longer than the three-day waiting period, purchasers would have to continue waiting to access their weapon until the check is complete.
The prospective measure is slated to offer an exception for domestic violence victims with a restraining order against their abuser who can prove that the order is in effect. Those victims would still, however, have to pass a background check. (The carve-out for domestic violence victims may be added as an amendment after the bill is introduced.)
Antique and relic firearms would be exempt from the waiting period.
Gun sellers who violate the policy would be subject to a $500 fine that could increase to between $500 and $5,000 for a second and subsequent offense. The penalty would be civil, not criminal.
The bill’s lead sponsors say they settled on three days after looking at other states’ policies and taking into consideration that if they aren’t instant, as designed, most background checks in Colorado are completed within two to five days. The waiting period would begin when a seller initiates a background check.
The bill’s sponsors say they have the backing of Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic leadership in the legislature. “We feel we have the support across the board of the executive branch and leadership in both chambers,” Froelich said.
Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, didn’t directly respond to a question about how the governor feels about the concept of waiting periods.
“The governor is committed to making Colorado one of the top 10 safest states and appreciates commonsense efforts to help accomplish this goal, including support for law enforcement, tougher penalties on auto theft and improving gun safety,” Cahill said.
Sullivan considered bringing a waiting-period bill in 2021, but Democrats opted to focus that year on other gun control measures instead. “We would have loved to have seen it either of the past two sessions, but it just didn’t find its way to daylight,” he said Tuesday evening.
Republicans are likely to oppose the measure, but they are in the minority in the Colorado House and Senate and have few options to try to stop the bill from passing. Gun rights groups will also fight the proposal.
Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, another lead sponsor of the bill, says she was inspired to work on the measure in part by her son’s unsuccessful attempt to kill himself with a gun.
Years ago, Amabile’s son was in crisis and attempted to purchase a gun, but his required background check was not immediately completed. Instead, Amabile and her husband were able to intervene.
“Had his background check come back instantly, he would have been sold the gun and, I believe, he would be dead,” she told The Sun. “But instead he continued to spiral and ended up in hospital and is still with us. And doing better.”
(The fourth lead sponsor of the waiting-period bill will be Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.)
There are several cases in Colorado in which someone purchased a gun and shortly thereafter harmed themselves or others.
The man who killed 10 people, including a police officer, at a Boulder King Soopers in 2021 purchased the gun he used in the attack six days prior.
In 2019, Sol Pais, an 18-year-old Florida woman obsessed with the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, traveled to Colorado days before the 20th anniversary of the deadly attack, prompting schools across the state to close as a precaution. Pais drove straight to a gun store from the airport and purchased a shotgun and ammunition. She then killed herself near Mount Evans.
In the case of the Highlands Ranch mother, Jennifer Laber, her husband later revealed that she had battled depression for years. But he said he never thought she would harm their children.
“There was no sign that she intended to hurt herself or the boys at all,” he told Denver7.