Colorado Dems Plan To Pursue A Variety Of Gun Laws In 2020

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A snowy Colorado Capitol building seen from Sherman Street Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2019. Colorado was inundated by a November snowstorm.

Colorado Democrats are poised to make a bid for stricter gun policies during the 2020 legislative session.

The move follows the passage of a so-called ‘red flag’ gun law in 2019 that allows a court to temporarily remove firearms from someone who might be at risk of harming themselves or others. The new law goes into effect on January 1.

At least a dozen Colorado counties have designated themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and said they will not enforce the red flag law because it violates the Constitution. The pushback hasn’t deterred some Democrats from moving forward with other gun policies.

Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial is entering his second year at the capitol and got into politics after his son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting. He said there’s much more work to do.

“Right after [last] session was over, a young woman flew into DIA and shut down 60 percent of our schools by going to a local gun shop and buying herself a long gun,” Sullivan said. “And then, had made threats against the students at Columbine and she ended up going up to the mountains and killing herself. We need to decide, are we OK with that or do we want to do something about that?”

Sullivan said there are only eight states that require the reporting of a stolen or lost firearm. The first thing he’d like to do is sponsor a measure to add Colorado to that list.

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
State Rep. Tom Sullivan at Gov. Jared Polis signing ceremony for HB 1177, the Red Flag bill, on April 12, 2019. Sullivan, a freshman lawmaker, campaigned for office in part to enact tougher gun control laws after his son Alex was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting. He was a leading sponsor of the bill.

“Law enforcement wants to be aware of [gun thefts],” he said. “Plus, that is a big deterrent for the straw purchases where someone goes in and buys 10 or 15 firearms, and then takes them home and sells them off to other people.”

Another proposal in the works from Democratic Rep. Monica Duran would deal with safe gun storage. She’s still talking to various groups about it and getting more details but said gun safety is a topic her constituents frequently bring up.

“We have to be OK with saying guns, right? I realize it is a difficult conversation and I realize a lot of walls kind of go up with that.”

The Wheat Ridge representative is a domestic violence survivor and also wants to revisit the effectiveness of a 2013 state law that bars people who have domestic violence convictions or are subject to domestic violence protection orders from owning or possessing a firearm.

“So, kind of looking at how that worked for the last six years, what has worked, what hasn't worked and if there's anything we can do legislatively to kind of help facilitate that.”

Gun control bills have been politically controversial in Colorado. Back in 2013, two Democratic state senators were recalled over their support of universal background checks and a ban on high capacity magazines. Sullivan faced an attempted recall effort after his first legislative session. Opponents cited his sponsorship of the red flag law, even though it was what he campaigned on.

Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite
District 63 Rep. Lori Saine, Colorado House of Representatives, April 19, 2019.

“Just like red flag, these bills sound good on the surface but underneath there could be an extraordinary abuse of gun rights with no increase of public safety,” said Dick Wadhams, a former GOP state party chair.

He urged caution and more attempts to work across the aisle.

“If Democratic legislators ram through gun bills, like they did with red flag, with no real debate nor any real attempt to work with Republicans, they will further polarize our state,” Wadhams said.

Bipartisan support around hot button national issues is unlikely in a presidential election year. Republican Sen. Paul Lundeen of Colorado Springs said it doesn’t help when high profile Democrats like former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke say, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your ‘AR-15'”

“It's really hard to generate a positive conversation around things like safe storage and so forth,” Lundeen said. “So the tone of that, how it's brought becomes very important to whether or not we're able to make progress on challenging matters like that.”

And some Republicans want to go in the opposite direction and loosen restrictions. Rep. Lori Saine of Dacono plans to again run a measure that would repeal the high capacity magazine ban.

“The laws, you know, are completely ineffective in curbing violence,” Saine said.

But there are some areas of bipartisan agreement, especially centered around school violence, a topic that the state government has tried to address for years. The latest attempt began in the wake of the deadly shooting in May at STEM School in Highlands Ranch.

Members of both political parties seem to be on board with more money for things like mental health resources in schools. The rest will be up for debate when the new legislative session opens on Jan.8, 2020.