Editor's Note: This story contains mentions of suicide and violence.
In the rotunda of the state capitol on Thursday Democratic lawmakers unveiled a package of gun bills that they believe have the potential to save lives and help reduce gun violence.
Since the bills were all just introduced, it’s not yet clear when the first hearings will take place to give the public a chance to weigh in on them. But they are already receiving strong pushback from conservatives at the Capitol who say they would be unconstitutional, harm Coloradans, and fail to fix the problems they’re meant to address.
The slate of bills has the support of Democratic legislative leadership and would:
- Institute a three day waiting period for all gun purchases
- Raise the age to purchase and possess firearms to 21
- Add district attorneys, educators, health care providers, and licensed mental health professionals to the list of people who can file an Extreme Risk Protection Order to remove someone’s guns
- Make it easier to sue firearm manufacturers for liability
Democrats are discussing other potential bills behind the scenes, which could still come later this session.
Gun rights groups have been gearing up for a fight on this issue; Taylor Rhodes, the head of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said his organization gained 20,000 new members in the last two months, as word spread that policies like this might be coming.
“We are planning to turn this building into a circus and to make sure that these legislators, these tyrants that want to steal your freedom know that we are not gonna back down,” said Rhodes.
Here are the details on the four bills that have been introduced:
Waiting period for all gun purchases
Backers of House Bill 1219 say that requiring buyers to wait a few days to get their new gun gives those bent on suicide or homicide time to cool down and change their minds.
The issue is personal for Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile; she believes the only reason her son is alive is because she and her husband were able to persuade a gun store owner not to sell him a firearm he intended to use for suicide.
“But we got lucky. And so many other families don't get lucky like we did. My kid is still alive,” said Amabile, who is a lead sponsor on HB-1219 “And a day or two after that, he ended up in a hospital and he got some treatment and he's doing better now.”
The bill would not apply to purchases of antique firearms or to lawful transfers that do not require a background check. Active duty members of the military deploying within a month would also be allowed to sell their guns to an immediate family member without a waiting period.
Under the proposal local governments would have the power to enact even longer waiting periods. Currently nine states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods that apply to the purchase of at least some types of firearms, according to data from the Giffords Law Center, which advocates for stricter gun policies. Those delays range from 3 days in Florida to 10 in California and 14 in Hawaii.
“We all know a right delayed is a right denied,” said Rhodes. He said his group RMGO already had lawsuits drafted to oppose all the measures should they become law.
Increase the age to purchase or possess a firearm to 21
Currently Colorado doesn’t have a specific state law laying out age restrictions for gun purchases, so the state defaults to federal law, which requires someone be 21 years old to purchase a handgun and 18 for other firearms. Senate Bill 169 would set 21 as the minimum age to buy any type of gun.
There would be some exemptions. An 18-to-20-year-old with a hunting license could buy some types of guns, but would still be restricted from purchasing a handgun or semi-automatic rifle. People in that age group would also be allowed to possess a firearm as long as they were under the direct supervision of an immediate family member who themself is at least 25 years old. The bill also allows younger police officers and members of the military to possess guns as part of their jobs.
House Majority Leader Monica Duran will be one of the main sponsors and said this is an important step for Colorado to take. She noted that the teen suicide rate has increased dramatically in the past decade.
“Think about that. Why wouldn't we do something right to curb that? Why wouldn't we do something to stop that?”
On the other side, Rhodes, who called the entire package of bills nightmarish, decried the age restriction proposal as the most “heinous.”
Seven states currently require people to be at least 21 to purchase a firearm, according to Giffords.
Expand Extreme Risk Protection Orders
Currently only close relatives, cohabitants and law enforcement can file for what’s known as an Extreme Risk Protection Order. This bill would allow district attorneys, educators, health care providers, and licensed mental health professionals, including marriage and addiction counselors, psychologists and social workers to do so
Health care providers and educators who be required to have a direct professional relationship with the individual within the last 6 months of making the request. The bill also protects professionals in those positions from criminal or civil liability if they don’t file a request and the person goes on to commit an act of violence.
Democratic Sen. Tom Sullivan is one of the main sponsors. His son Alex was killed in the Aurora Theater Shooting. The shooter was seeing a therapist at the time, who notified his parents about her concerns. But Sullivan said there was nothing more she could do.
“I believe if this 2023 version had been in effect prior to the tragedy of July 20th, 2012, we could have had a chance to change the most horrific night in Colorado history” said Sullivan.
A CPR investigation found that, currently, ERPO petitions filed by private citizens are granted less than 20 percent of the time, a far lower rate than those filed by law enforcement.
Even with liability protections in place, opponents are concerned that expanding the law in this way could put teachers and others who fail to file a request at risk of public blame after a tragedy. Others are concerned it could prevent people from getting mental health help, if they have to worry that their counselor could try to get them disarmed.
“Anybody who can impose their will or their thought or their opinion and then as a result, take away somebody's constitutional right is pretty scary,” said Republican House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a long time opponent of the red flag law.
New civil liability risk for gun industry
Senate Bill 168 would remove an immunity provision for civil lawsuits against gun store owners and manufacturers, allowing people to sue if they believe those companies bear some responsibility for an act of gun violence.
Supporters of the measure say the firearm industry has a responsibility to take reasonable precautions to prevent “foreseeable risks,” including keeping guns away from straw buyers and people who intend to use them for violence or suicide.
Democratic Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis is one of the main sponsors and sees the measure as a basis for all the other gun-related bills Democrats hope to pass this session.
“It becomes the enforcement, because if a gun shop owner sells a gun to someone who's under the age of 21, what are we gonna do? Well, if there is harm that is caused by that, those gun violence survivors can take them to court,” she said.
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