A bill to require Colorado gun owners who share their homes with children to securely store their weapons passed its first committee Monday on a party line vote.
The measure would make failure to safely secure a weapon a misdemeanor. It would only apply in situations where a child might be able to gain access to the gun, or if someone living in the home is ineligible to own firearms.
Advocates of HB-1106 say its provisions would help prevent youth suicides and accidental shootings.
Dr. Maya Haasz, who spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of Children's Hospital Colorado and the American Academy of Pediatrics, testified she's treated numerous children for gunshot wounds during her decade as a pediatric emergency medicine physician.
"The cry of any parent whose toddler has died is agonizing," Haasz said. "When the toddler has been fatally shot playing with a sibling, when that death was entirely avoidable, the added layers of guilt and what-ifs add a new, almost tangible level of pain for everyone involved."
The hearing comes a week after a Lafayette teen died in what appears to be an accidental shooting. Another teen has been charged with manslaughter.
Opponents who came to testify countered that the state's focus should be on teaching children gun safety. And they argued that the time needed to remove a lock would render a gun useless in the exact situation many people purchase them for: home defense.
"In firearms classes, we actually talk about, first, safety, always safety," said Erik Stone, a Teller County commissioner and NRA-certified firearms instructor. "That's how you prevent firearms accidents. You don't do it by creating laws that have penalties after an accident occurs. It's completely ineffective."
One question that looms over the proposed law is whether the courts would find it constitutional. In 2008's landmark District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the Supreme Court struck down a D.C. law that required handguns to be stored either disassembled or with a trigger lock.
However, proponents of the bill argue that the court's problem with D.C.'s law was that its wording didn't allow gun owners to maintain an operable weapon for self-defense. "This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the majority opinion.
Colorado's bill, backers argue, allows for self-defense.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of 2019, 11 states had laws requiring safe storage or gun locks in at least some situations.
The bill now goes to the full House. A second Democratic gun bill — this one requiring gun owners to inform law enforcement if their firearm is lost or stolen — has its first hearing on Thursday.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).