Making, possessing and selling so-called ghost guns, the untraceable homemade weapons linked to several recent high-profile Colorado shootings, will likely soon be illegal in the state.
Democrats in the state legislature Wednesday introduced a measure outlawing the firearms as part of their package of bills this year aimed at curbing gun violence in Colorado.
When guns are made by licensed manufacturers, they are required to have an engraved serial number. If that type of weapon is used in a crime, investigators can trace where it was purchased and by whom.
Additionally, anyone purchasing a gun in Colorado must go through a background check.
But the proliferation of make-it-yourself gun kits and 3D printers has allowed an unknown number of untraceable firearms to be produced by people who are able to skirt Colorado’s universal background check system.
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Under the bill, which is set to be introduced in the state Senate, people who already own firearms that have no serial number will have until the start of 2024 to have them engraved with a serial number by a licensed dealer. That transaction would require a background check and recording of the serial number.
The bill would also outlaw the purchase and possession of any unfinished firearms that don’t have serial numbers and can be easily assembled, and it would outlaw devices that would let semi-automatic ghost guns fire at a rate similar to an automatic weapon.
Under the bill, people found to have created or be in possession of an unserialized firearm or gun frame would face a Class 1 misdemeanor for a first offense, punishable by up to 364 days in jail, and a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison, for subsequent offenses.
“What we’re going to be doing is interrupting access to guns,” said Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat. “It’s a very popular weapon for criminals to use because you don’t have to go for a background check. So we’re about to put an end to that so that we can interrupt the level of gun violence that we’re seeing in our state and across the nation.”
Other prime sponsors of the bill are Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver; Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, D-Fort Collins; and Rep. Junie Joseph, D-Boulder.
“No law stops illegal activity,” Hansen said. “I have no doubt there will be people who will break the law. But, the point is, we have nothing on the books right now to address unserialized firearms.”
The measure is expected to cruise through the Democratic-controlled legislature to Gov. Jared Polis, who supports the legislation.
There’s also growing, bipartisan support outside of the Capitol for regulating ghost guns. The mayors of Denver, Colorado Springs and Aurora wrote a joint opinion column in January supporting legislation that would restrict untraceable guns.
Ghost guns have been associated with several high-profile shootings in Colorado over the past year, including one in March when an East High School student with a history of making guns shot two administrators. The alleged shooter in the Club Q massacre in Colorado Springs also had a history of using a 3D printer to produce guns at home.
The bill would also add crimes around unserialized guns and gun parts to the list of reasons someone could be barred from purchasing a firearm.
Eleven states — including Washington, Nevada, California and Rhode Island — as well as Washington, D.C., have enacted laws regulating ghost guns, according to Giffords Law Center, an anti-gun violence advocacy organization that tracks statutes related to firearms.
Colorado’s forthcoming bill would make it illegal to use a 3D printer to produce a firearm but would not go as far as some states — such as New Jersey — that bar the distribution of instructions for how to make a gun with a 3D printer.
“As federal law has evolved and as the industry tries to get around these regulations we make updates to the law,” said Allison Anderman, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center, who worked on the Colorado bill.
The Giffords Law Center is an offshoot of Giffords, an organization that advocates for tighter gun regulations across the country and is named after former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords. The Arizona Democrat was gravely wounded in a 2011 mass shooting that forced her to retire from Congress.
Regulations around ghost guns in other states are all relatively recent, making their efficacy difficult to gauge, Anderman said.
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There are difficulties around regulating the production of guns that can be made behind closed doors, but Anderman said the bill will focus primarily on sellers and distributors of ghost gun parts.
“We are trying to essentially go after the supply,” Anderman said.
In 2022, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives issued a rule requiring that kits that can be used to create firearms at home must include serial numbers.
The bill comes as Democrats in the Colorado legislature have taken up four other measures aimed at preventing gun violence. The bills would impose a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases, raise the minimum age for buying guns to 21 and expand Colorado’s red flag law to let teachers, prosecutors and medical professionals also petition a judge to order the temporary seizure of someone’s guns.
A fourth bill would make it easier to sue the gun industry.