What Can Be Done? Lawmakers Struggle To Address Colorado’s Latest School Shooting

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4min 31sec
David Zalubowski/AP
Police tape remains near the scene following Tuesday’s shooting at STEM Highlands Ranch school, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Photo: STEM Shooting 12 | School Police Tape - AP
Police tape remains near the scene following Tuesday's shooting at STEM Highlands Ranch school, Wednesday, May 8, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

After Colorado’s latest school shooting — and nearly a month after Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed a so-called “red flag” gun bill into law — some lawmakers are grappling with how the state should move forward.

What should they try to prevent future tragedies?

A parent himself, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Alec Garnett said the “picture of young kiddos standing on the sidewalk with hands over their heads” and the parents who waited nervously for word on their children really hit him hard.

“Parents across the state are having another conversation with their young kids about how they’re not safe in their own classrooms, and that’s just a tragic reality that’s unacceptable,” he said. “This just can’t become the normal and that’s what it’s become.”

Garnett sponsored the red flag law, which was the first gun law the state had passed since 2013. The high-capacity magazine ban and universal background checks have ultimately stood, but cost two Democratic senators their jobs in a recall.

Republican Rep. Lori Saine of Firestone, who has sponsored repeal bills ever since the high-capacity magazine ban went into effect, said the ban “imposes a burden on the constitutional right of citizens to protect themselves.”

Colorado’s red flag law already faces a legal challenge and roughly half of the state’s counties oppose it. The fear is that it will ensnare innocent people and trample on Second Amendment rights.

To ensure classroom safety, Republicans want more school security guards and have backed bills to set up programs to train teachers who want to carry firearms.

“We need to focus like a laser on keeping students safe, not more political gun laws,” said Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen of Monument.

Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock said the suspects in the STEM School shooting had a “number of weapons” —including two handguns, which he said the students were not old enough to buy or own. Under Colorado law, you have to be at least 18 to buy “long guns,” such as a rifle.

The minimum age for a handgun purchase is 21.

Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial became engaged in politics after his son Alex was one of the 12 killed in the Aurora theater shooting. He thinks lawmakers should take up a range of new potential laws.

“I talked with district attorneys this past Sunday about why we don’t prosecute those who fail background checks?” Sullivan said. “I’m open to a conversation about Safe Storage, Waiting Periods & Age Restrictions. With what we have endured these past few weeks those kinds of constructive conversations need to be had.”

Lundeen countered that “it’s unfortunate that Democrats pivoted immediately to gun control schemes. We don’t have all the facts yet about what happened in Highlands Ranch. What we do know is that these handguns were reportedly stolen from family members. That’s illegal.”

The Douglas County Sheriff has made no public statements on the source of the weapons used in Tuesday’s school shooting.

Both parties agreed in the last session to put $35 million more into school security. Democrats also created a pilot program to place a mental health professional in each grade for up to ten elementary schools. Another bill allowed children as young as 12 to seek confidential mental health therapy without consent from a parent or legal guardian.

For Democratic sponsor Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet it’s not enough.

“From mental health to firearm safety, there was an unprecedented effort by Republicans to stop the legislation from going through at every stop,” she said. “As I try to respond to the desperate cries from mothers on my feed for action; I feel so frustrated by a system that makes meaningful change so difficult to come by.”

Opponents to those measures say children as young as 12 may not have the full cognitive ability to make decisions about seeking mental health help. They also worry it infringes on a parent’s right to be involved in the decision on how best to help their child and understand what’s going on.

Whether it’s mental health, school safety or new gun laws, one lawmaker said constituents are telling her Colorado needs to do more.

“I just don’t know what,” said Democratic Rep. Monica Duran. “I know we need to do something. We can’t just wait for a tragedy to happen.”

Duran plans to introduce some type of gun safety legislation next year, even if it ends up a controversial move: “I’d rather do the right thing and lose an election.”