Colorado could become one of close to a dozen states that require a waiting period for gun purchases.
The proposal — part of a package of Democratic gun control bills — passed its first hearing on a largely party-line vote Monday afternoon, after numerous witnesses told lawmakers about the friends and loved ones they’d lost to gun violence and suicide.
Under the proposal, gun sellers would have to wait at least three days before handing over a gun to a customer. The policy builds on the state’s earlier gun reform laws, including a requirement that all buyers pass a background check, even when purchasing from a private seller.
The vast majority of gun background checks are instantaneous, meaning most buyers face no delay in taking possession of their new weapons.
The committee hearing stretched late into the day, with more than 60 witnesses signed up to speak. Much of the debate’s first hours focused on suicides.
What supporters of the bill said
Supporters of the bill said that a delay of even a few days could be enough to save a life.
“A gun allows for no second thoughts, no second chances, no breathing room,” said Jenny Gunther, who told the story of a friend who died by suicide. “The immediate access to a gun led to a permanent solution for her temporary hardships.”
|If you or someone you know is in crisis or looking for mental health services, call the Colorado Crisis Services hotline at 1-844-493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255.|
The committee voted 7-4 to advance the measure. State Rep. Said Sharbini, a Democrat, joined Republicans in voting against the bill, saying that he had hoped for exemptions for people with firearms training and military veterans.
Research shows that firearms are far deadlier than other methods of suicide, and studies of waiting periods have found they are correlated with lower gun death rates.
“Delaying access to firearms for individuals in these circumstances can reduce suicide attempts,” read a research summary by the RAND Corporation.
Jacqui Shumway, who supports the proposal, said that she came within minutes of buying a gun on East Colfax Avenue and carrying out a suicide in the 1990s.
“For 32 years, I've been waiting patiently for the waiting period,” she said.
A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that during the 1990s, when federal law resulted in waiting periods in 19 states, it “led to large and statistically significant reductions in violence,” including a 17 percent drop in gun homicides and a 6 percent drop in gun suicides. The findings were “robust across models,” the paper stated.
What opponents of the bill said
Gun rights supporters questioned that research, saying it was unrealistic to think 17 percent of homicides could involve newly purchased weapons and arguing the study failed to account for enough variables. A 2016 survey of prison inmates found that most obtained the guns used in their crimes either through illegal sources or as gifts from friends and family.
One opponent of the bill, Ronald Dietz, spoke of his own son’s suicide. He said that he had prevented his son from obtaining a gun for suicide — only for him to die by another method.
“Someone who is suicidal is going to find a way to commit suicide if he does not get better,” Dietz said.
The RAND overview acknowledged that waiting periods won’t help in all cases, with some suicides and acts of violence simply being delayed, or being completed with other firearms.
Gun rights supporters derided the proposal as an unconstitutional attack on the Second Amendment. Justin Green, the owner of SDS Guns in Colorado Springs, said it would present an undue burden for customers who might have to drive a long distance to visit his store twice and endanger those who need a gun for their immediate safety.
“I apologize, and I’m not trying to insult you, but you are the boot of government around our necks. You are choking us out. We cannot breathe due to the burdens this committee has forced on law-abiding gun owners,” he said.
A legislative marathon for gun bills begins
State Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Democrat, thanked those who testified in favor of the bill, and called on them to demand more gun law reforms.
“Ask much more of us. This one isn’t hard for me. This one isn’t hard. You should be asking us things that are even harder,” said Epps, who is sponsoring a bill to ban certain semi-automatic weapons.
The hearing marks just the beginning of a legislative marathon, with intense debates expected over other Democratic gun bills, including ones to:
- Raise the age limit for gun purchases
- Expand the Extreme Risk Protection Order law
- Make it easier to sue companies that make and market firearms
Editor's note: Captions on two photos, above, have been corrected to reflect that Dr. Carolina Gutierrez was speaking in favor of the legislation, and another photo caption now correctly identifies Tom Mauser.
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