A Colorado lawmaker accidentally dropped his handgun in a public area inside the state Capitol on Monday. The firearm did not discharge and no one was injured.
According to three witnesses, Republican state Rep. Richard Holtorf was hurrying up a short set of steps outside the House chamber when his handgun fell out of his pants onto the marble floor. The witnesses said Holtorf quickly picked it up and proceeded to enter the chamber.
The incident occurred as House members were voting on an amendment to a bill that would enshrine abortion access into state law.
Holtorf and Republican House leaders did not immediately return a request for comment. The witnesses told CPR News the incident was "reckless and scary." They asked to remain anonymous for fear that going public would jeopardize their work with Republican lawmakers.
“This incident was unacceptable and created a dangerous situation for lawmakers, staff, and the public visiting the capitol,” said Democratic House Speaker Alec Garnett in a written response to the incident. “We are looking at existing laws and rules and what options might exist that would prevent this from happening again.”
Garnett said he urged House Minority Leader Hugh McKean to speak with his caucus and to educate Holtorf on “the proper way” to safely carry a firearm at the capitol.
Colorado’s Capitol, like most statehouses across the country, has checkpoints with metal detectors at its public entrances. Visitors and lobbyists must pass through under the watchful eyes of State Patrol officers and are not allowed to bring in weapons of any kind.
But lawmakers are allowed to bypass those security checkpoints. They are also allowed to carry concealed weapons because of a state law that designates the Capitol as their place of business. A number of legislators have said they do carry inside the building for a variety of reasons, including for self-defense and as a way to protect others in the event of an attack.
The last notable gun incident at the statehouse occurred in 2014 when a Republican state lawmaker left his gun unattended in a committee room after a hearing — coincidentally about concealed carry permits — let out.
“When you enter a government building where there are heated vigorous debates and people are on edge, and sleep-deprived and — let’s be honest — there are people in this building who are drinking, that can be a deadly mix,” said former Democratic state Rep. Jonathan Singer, who found the weapon.
He reflected on the incident a few years afterward.
In 2017, former Republican state Rep. Lori Saine made headlines when she was arrested at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport with a loaded gun. Ultimately prosecutors dropped the case, essentially concluding Saine made a mistake and did not intend to violate federal laws on transporting firearms.
Saine said at the time she also carried at the statehouse, and that she felt very secure there knowing that a lot of members, especially Republicans, carry.
Holtorf is a rancher and farmer and represents the southeastern and eastern part of the state. He served nearly 30 years in the U.S. Army.
Last session he was reprimanded and apologized for referring to a Latino colleague as "Buckwheat," a racist term based on a Black caricature from an early 20th-century television show.
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