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A row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop, Thursday, July 26, 2012 in Aurora. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

A bill that would have banned the sale or transfer of so-called assault weapons in Colorado narrowly failed in a Democratic-majority state House committee early Thursday, even after the sponsor of the measure proposed a much narrower prohibition on devices that make semi-automatic weapons fire at a rate similar to automatic firearms. 

House Bill 1230 was rejected in a dramatic, 6-7 vote in the House Judiciary Committee at about 1 a.m. following a 14-hour hearing that featured testimony from hundreds of people. 

Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Denver Democrat and the lone prime House sponsor of the bill, proposed two amendments that would have limited the bill to a ban on the sale of either rapid-fire trigger activators and/or bump stocks. 

Both failed on 6-7 votes, with three Democrats — Reps. Lindsey Daugherty, Said Sharbini and Marc Snyder — joining the four Republicans on the committee in rejecting the changes.

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Bump stocks, a device that allows a semi-automatic firearm to fire at the rate of an automatic gun, were banned by the Trump administration in 2018 following a massacre at a music festival in Las Vegas in the prior year in which the shooter used the device to kill 58 people. 

“I’m slightly in shock right now,” Epps said just before the final vote on the bill was taken and after her amendments failed.

The Democrats who voted against advancing the bill were Sharbini, Snyder and Rep. Bob Marshall.

Snyder, who has voted in favor of other gun control measures this session, said when he was campaigning he told voters he wouldn’t take guns away from law-abiding citizens. “The bill, I believe, does that,” he said.

The hearing on the bill began at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Epps signaled early on that she was planning to pare the bill down to ban bump stocks and rapid-fire trigger activators in a nod to the political reality that her measure, as introduced, was unlikely to pass. The proposed change surprised and frustrated many on the Judiciary Committee and at the Capitol.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives regulation outlawing bump stocks has bounced around the federal court system since and was struck down by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in January, which said the ATF didn’t have the congressional authority to enact the ban. For now, the ban remains in effect. 

Trigger activators, which also increase the rate of fire for firearms, are regulated in several other states. 

Hours of testimony happened anyway. 

“I’ve long said that Democrats weren’t serious about a statewide ban on assault weapons. If we fail, I was right. I want to be wrong,” Epps said in the opening of the hearing.

Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson (left) and Elisabeth Epps address a large crowd of demonstrators during a Black Lives Matter march outside of East High School in Denver, June 7, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

She went on to encourage supporters of the concept to focus their frustration on the “gatekeeping” rather than on moderate Democrats or those firmly against the bill.

“It’s just hard to look at the math and know that we have so many more than 33 votes in this House of Representatives and to not be assigned to a committee where we could get to the floor with the bill intact,” she said.

That appeared to be a jab at Democratic leadership in the House, who determine to which committees bills are assigned. The Judiciary Committee has several Democratic members who have voted against other gun regulations this session, including Marshall and Sharbini. Bills need at least 33 votes in the House to be approved. 

Earlier in the week, House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and Majority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, both declined to take a position on the assault weapons bill.

A handful of states including California, Illinois, New York and Maryland have bans on assault weapons. 

More than a dozen states restrict access in some way to either bump stocks or other devices that allow a semi-automatic firearm to operate like an automatic, according to Giffords Law Center, a gun violence prevention group that tracks firearm regulations.

Epps’ bill wasn’t included in a Democratic news conference earlier this year where the party’s state lawmakers rolled out a series of gun regulations they pursued this year. 

All four bills unveiled at the news conference are now waiting to be signed by the governor. They would: 

  • Raise the minimum age to buy any gun to 21
  • Impose a three-day waiting period between when someone can purchase a firearm and access it
  • Expand the state’s existing red flag law, which lets judges order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others 
  • Make it easier to sue gun and ammunition manufacturers and sellers 

The legislature is also considering a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of so-called ghost guns, which are homemade weapons that don’t have serial numbers and thus are untraceable.  

House Bill 1230 would have also defined assault weapons by their features, rather than by specific makes and models. Those definitions, all for semi-automatic firearms, included ammunition-feeding devices, large-capacity magazines and pistol grips.

Under the bill, selling or attempting to sell a so-called assault weapon would have been a Class 2 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 120 days in jail, a fine of up to $750 or both. 

Gov. Jared Polis signaled he was opposed to the measure, as did many Democrats in the House and Senate. Even if the bill had passed the House Judiciary committee on Thursday morning, it was unlikely to be signed into law. 

The 2023 legislative session ends May 8.

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Elliott Wenzler

Elliott Wenzler is a reporter for the Colorado Sun, covering local politics, the state legislature and other topics. She also assists with The Unaffiliated newsletter. Previously, she was a community reporter in Douglas County for Colorado Community Media. She has won awards for her...

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...