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Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 169 into law on April 28, 2023, which raises the minimum age to 21 to purchase firearms, and makes it illegal to sell a gun to someone younger than 21. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Gov. Jared Polis signed four gun measures into law Friday in what’s likely the most consequential tightening of gun regulations in Colorado history. 

The bills expand the state’s red flag law, raise the minimum age to purchase all guns to 21, impose a three-day waiting period on firearm purchases and make it easier for people to sue the gun industry.

“Coloradans deserve to be safe in our communities, in our schools, our grocery stores, night clubs and everywhere in between,” Polis said before signing the bills.

Still pending in the legislature, and expected to pass soon, is a fifth bill that would ban the creation and sale of unserialized firearms, also known as “ghost guns.” 

Here’s what each of the bills signed into law Friday would do: 

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Red flag law expansion

Colorado’s red flag law, which allows judges to order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others, was created in 2019. But only family members and law enforcement have been able to petition a judge to issue a seizure order.

Under Senate Bill 170, one of the four bills signed by Polis on Friday, the list of people who can petition a judge to order a gun seizure now includes health care providers, mental health providers, district attorneys and teachers. The bill also requires the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to create an education campaign around the red flag law.

“If I hear one more time, ‘It’s not the gun, it’s the person’ but then you don’t support this law, then maybe you don’t really mean it,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, a prime sponsor of the bill. “Because that’s what we’re addressing here.”

Finally, the bill creates a hotline run by the Colorado Department of Public Safety to help the public get information about how to request gun seizures and to connect people with relevant resources.

Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 170 into law on April 28, 2023, which expands Colorado’s red flag law, allowing judges to order the temporary seizure of guns from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others, was created in 2019. Previously, only family members and law enforcement could petition a judge to issue a seizure order. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

The measure is aimed at increasing use of the red flag law, which hasn’t been used much in its first few years compared to other states with similar laws, according to a Colorado Public Radio analysis. 

The bill’s other prime sponsors were all Democrats, including Sen. Tom Sullivan, Senate President Steve Fenberg and Rep. Mike Weissman.

Requiring that people be 21 to purchase a gun

Senate Bill 169 raises the minimum age to purchase any firearm in Colorado to 21. The new law also makes it illegal to sell any gun to someone younger than 21. 

“It’s just the truth that young people are far more likely to commit gun violence than their older counterparts,” said Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat and prime sponsor of the bill.

It was already illegal for people under 21 to purchase handguns. 

The new law makes it a Class 2 misdemeanor to buy a gun if you are younger than 21 or for a private dealer to sell a firearm to someone who is younger than 21. Licensed dealers who sell to someone younger than 21 could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor. 

The law has exceptions for members of the military and law enforcement.

The measure originally also would have banned possession of firearms for those under 21. That provision was removed in March. The bill also originally would have allowed people under 21 with a hunting license to purchase some firearms, but that element was also dropped. 

The bill’s other prime sponsors were all Democrats: Sen. Kyle Mullica, Rep. Monica Duran and Rep. Eliza Hamrick. 

Three-day waiting period

House Bill 1219 requires that people wait three days after purchasing a gun before they can take possession of the weapon. The measure is aimed at preventing heat-of-the-moment suicides and homicides. 

If a background check takes longer than three days, purchasers would have to continue waiting to access their weapon until the check is complete. Violations are punishable by a fine of $500 for the first offense and increase to $5,000 for subsequent offenses. 

The legislation also allows local governments to impose longer waiting periods for gun purchases. 

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. 

Republicans in the legislature attempted to amend the bill to exempt victims of assault and attempted homicide from the waiting period, but those proposed changes were rejected. There are exceptions for antique firearms and for military members soon being deployed who are selling a firearm to a family member. 

The bill’s prime sponsors were Democrats Rep. Meg Froelich, Rep. Judy Amabile, Sen. Tom Sullivan and Sen. Chris Hansen. 

“Our waiting periods bill puts distance between emotional distress and access to a firearm,” Froelich said during the bill signing event.

Making it easier to sue the gun industry

Senate Bill 168 rolled back the state’s extra protections for gun and ammunition manufacturers and sellers against lawsuits. 

A 2000 Colorado law — passed about a year after the Columbine High School massacre — granted the firearm industry some of the toughest civil legal protections in the nation. It required plaintiffs to pay defendants’ attorneys’ fees in all dismissed cases, and only allowed people to bring product liability lawsuits against gun makers, sellers and importers. 

Gov. Jared Polis signs Senate Bill 168 alongside Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose 24-year-old daughter, Jessica, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. The couple incurred hundreds of thousands in debt after suing four businesses patronized by the gunman. The bill rolls back Colorado’s extra protections for gun and ammunition sellers against lawsuits. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Senate Bill 168 eliminates the requirement that plaintiffs automatically pay the legal fees of gun-industry defendants when cases are dismissed, and it makes the industry susceptible to lawsuits under the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, the catchall policy governing business in the state. 

“We finally, after 23 years of waiting, can open up Colorado courtrooms to gun violence victims and survivors seeking justice,” said Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Boulder County Democrat and a prime sponsor of the bill.

The bill initially included a specific code of conduct for gun manufacturers and sellers.The code would have required the gun making industry to “take reasonable precautions” to ensure its products aren’t sold to a retailer that “fails to establish and implement reasonable controls.” It also would have required that gun makers don’t create or market products that can be easily modified into something illegal or something that is targeted toward minors or people who are barred from purchasing a gun. 

The governor’s office asked for that part of the bill to be removed, and it was taken out at their behest.

The bill’s other prime sponsors were all Democrats: Sen. Chris Kolker, Rep. Javier Mabrey and Rep. Jennifer Parenti. 

GOP opposition

The bills passed largely along party lines in both the House and Senate, with some Democrats joining Republicans in voting against the measures. Republicans argued for hours against each of the bills, calling the legislation unconstitutional and examples of government overreach.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a hard-line gun rights organization, filed lawsuits Friday challenging the laws imposing a waiting period on gun purchases and raising minimum age to purchase guns to 21.

“We’re talking about constitutional freedoms here, we’re talking about things that are guaranteed by God and enshrined by our government,” said Taylor Rhodes, executive director of the organization. “We believe we have two slam dunk lawsuits that we will easily win.”

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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...