A bill to ban the sale of ‘assault weapons’ in Colorado has reached the end of its road

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Democratic state Sen. Julie Gonzales at the Capitol, March 1, 2023.

Updated 4:43 p.m., May 6, 2024

An effort to ban the sale and transfer of so-called assault weapons in Colorado will come to an end Tuesday, at least for this year. 

The main sponsor of the bill is Democratic Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver. In a text message to CPR News, Gonzales said that she will ask for it to be voted down in committee on Tuesday, an action known in legislative jargon as ‘postponing indefinitely.’

“After thoughtful conversations with my Senate colleagues, I decided that more conversations need to take place outside of the pressure cooker of the Capitol during the last weeks of the legislative session,” wrote Gonzales.

HB24-1292 defined an assault weapon as a semi-automatic rifle with any of a long list of attributes or accessories and would have also banned certain .50 caliber rifles, semi-automatic pistols, shotguns with revolving cylinders and semi-automatic shotguns. People would have been allowed to keep the weapons they already own, but it would have made acquiring new ones in Colorado illegal.

It passed the House earlier this spring on a vote of 35 to 27, with eight Democrats joining Republicans in opposition. It faced a tougher road in the Senate.

It was assigned to be heard by the State Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, where Democrats have a one-vote advantage. One of the committee’s Democratic members, Sen. Tom Sullivan, is among the legislature’s most prominent voices for stricter gun laws. But he has long been skeptical that an assault weapons ban would have a meaningful impact and told CPR News he could be considered a swing vote on the issue.

Democratic Rep. Meg Froelich of Denver is sponsoring several gun bills this session with Sullivan this session. She acknowledged the ban is a thorny policy.

“I think it has always had a difficult path because the arguments against a ban are policy arguments, but the arguments for it are from the heart,” said Froelich. “The reality of the upper chamber where there’s a significant number of folks who don’t agree with the policy.” 

Froelich said she’s focusing on enforcement of existing gun laws. 

The effort to ban sales of assault weapons has slowly crept forward in the legislature. The idea was discussed for many years without being introduced. When it did finally make it into a bill last session, the proposal failed in its first committee.

Democratic Senate President Steve Fenberg had said earlier that even if the bill made it out of committee, passage in the full chamber was uncertain. 

“There are a lot of folks, I think, in my caucus that have a complicated relationship with this bill in different ways,” said Fenberg, who planned to vote for it. “Every legislator has the responsibility and authority to have a nuanced position on policy, on any policy.” 

In her statement announcing her plans, Gonzales said she looked forward to renewed discussions of the policy ahead of the next session and said she couldn’t be prouder of her colleagues in the House for passing the ban.

“It is clear that survivors of devastating gun violence, responsible gun owners, and local and national policy advocates remain committed to doing the work necessary to save lives,” she wrote.

Meanwhile, opponents of the policy, who believe it would be ineffective and infringe on Second Amendment rights, celebrated the bill’s defeat.

“It’s dead!!! We have officially KILLED the 2024 "Assault Weapons ban"! Thank you ALL for your hard work and activism to make this happen,” said a social media post from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a Second Amendment advocacy organization. 

The group said they made over 65,000 calls and sent over 150,000 emails to oppose the “totalitarian measure.”