January 30, 2023

In response to last month’s shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado, Democrats in the state Capitol are already considering a variety of changes to Colorado’s gun laws, from a ban on so-called assault weapons to changes to the existing red flag feathers law.

“Pretty much everything is on the table,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder. “The question now is: What seems to be a priority?”

Democrats are set to return to the Colorado Capitol in early January with expanded majorities in both the House and Senate and are under pressure to act after the state’s recent mass shooting. An attack on Club Q on November 19, allegedly carried out by a 22-year-old gunman armed with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, killed five and wounded more than a dozen others.

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The gun policy could be the first major test for the extended Democratic majorities in the Capitol next year. Memories of Democratic lawmakers’ recalls in 2013 over stricter gun regulations enacted in the wake of the Aurora Theater shooting certainly linger, but Colorado is a different state politically than it was a decade ago, and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are strong almost guaranteed until January 2027.

“Mental stability is clearly a critical factor,” said Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, a group pushing for stricter firearm regulations, in a written statement, “but as hard as it is to legislate against it, we do.” must face the elephant in the room: offensive weapons.

Adam Shore, the group’s executive director, said Colorado needs to “get to the root of what drives these individuals to kill others while reducing the chaos by making sure these weapons of war stay where they really belong — on the battlefield. ”

Auon’tai “Tay” Anderson, a Denver Public Schools board member, tweeted that Democrats should immediately use their majority in the Capitol to pass a so-called assault weapons ban.

“If people refuse to act, vote them out,” Anderson tweeted.

Fenberg, who said gun control talks were ongoing before the Club Q shootings, said a ban on so-called assault weapons is certainly a possibility. The challenge is figuring out how to write the complicated policy, including defining what an assault weapon is, what to do with weapons already in the possession of Colorado residents, and how to address people traveling to neighboring states to buy guns would be illegal in Colorado.

“I’ve always said I support a ban on assault weapons,” he said. “I don’t think it makes sense nowadays that people can buy weapons of war. It’s something where we need to make sure the policy is right. I think there’s still talk about what the policy would be like.”

Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, delivers a speech at the Art Hotel in Denver on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, 2022. (Hugh Carey, The Colorado Sun)

Democrats are more likely to make other changes to Colorado’s gun laws first, such as raising the minimum age to purchase a rifle or shotgun from 18 to 21. The minimum age to purchase handguns in Colorado is already 21.

Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, California, Rhode Island and New York are among the states where it is illegal to purchase firearms if you are under the age of 21.

Rep. Tom Sullivan, a centenarian Democrat who won a Senate seat in November, is working to change the minimum age to buy a gun. He initially only wanted to increase the age for so-called assault weapons, but thinks a broader change would be easier.

“That spares us from having to define what offensive weapons are,” said Sullivan, whose son Alex was murdered while filming at the Aurora Theater in 2012. “And that seems to be the consensus we’re hearing from the rest of the faction.”

Sullivan believes lawmakers should have raised the minimum age for purchasing rifles and shotguns last year.

“We had the votes, we had it put together, but our leadership and the governor didn’t let that happen last year,” Sullivan said.

There has also been talk of introducing a waiting period between purchasing a gun and accessing it, mirroring policies in states like California and Hawaii, which have 10- and 14-day waiting periods, respectively. Illinois has a 72 hour waiting period between purchasing a firearm and having access to it.

There were reports that the Club-Q gunman may have used “ghost guns” or homemade guns with no serial number in the attack. Sullivan said he wants legislation to regulate those, too.

Colorado already requires universal background checks on all gun purchases and has laws that limit gun magazines to 15 rounds and require safekeeping of firearms. Persons whose firearms are lost or stolen must also report them to law enforcement, and there is a law temporarily prohibiting persons convicted of certain violent offenses from purchasing firearms.

Colorado counties and municipalities are also now allowed to enact gun regulations that are stricter than state policy after lawmakers repealed a pre-emption law in 2021.

MORE: The statewide gun regulations passed in Colorado after the Aurora theater shooting

Regarding the Red Flag Act, a 2019 directive that allows judges to order the temporary confiscation of firearms from people deemed to pose a significant risk to themselves or others, the changes being discussed have to do with who can apply for confiscation. Right now, law enforcement and family members are virtually the only groups permitted to petition a judge for a seizure order.

Gov. Jared Polis has expressed support for including prosecutors on the list, while others have suggested that the attorney general’s office and teachers should also be allowed to seek seizures.

“We’re definitely going to look closely at why the Red Flag law didn’t apply in this case, in the case of the King Soopers shooter,” Polis told Chuck Todd on NBC’s Meet the Press.

Since the Club Q shooting, Polis, a Democrat, has campaigned more to change the red flag law, ensure Colorado residents are aware of it, and strengthen mental health services than the gun control list to expand that the state already has.

“In Colorado, we have a magazine limit — no more than 15 bullets in a magazine — so it effectively reduces the ability of high-powered weapons to do damage,” Polis told NBC News when discussing the prospect of a ban-called assault weapons.

Polis said he would support a national effort to require additional licenses or background checks for people trying to buy “some of the most powerful weapons”. President Joe Biden has called for a ban on so-called assault weapons following the Club Q shooting.

Authorities have not provided details of the weapons used in the Club Q shooting.

Sullivan believes it would be better if a federal ban on so-called assault weapons were pursued because Congress has more resources. He also pointed out that assault weapons are not used in the vast majority of firearm deaths in the United States

Colorado Governor Jared Polis kneels in front of a memorial erected in front of Club Q in Colorado Springs on Tuesday, November 29, 2022. (AP Photo/Thomas Peipert)

“You’re speaking to someone whose son was murdered by a guy with a gun,” he said. “I know what it can do. But what happened to us is the uniqueness of everyday gun violence affecting our community.”

New House Speaker Julie McCluskie, a Dillon Democrat who still aligns with her leadership, said her caucus “did talk about having a conversation.”

“I expect that just like we did after the Boulder shooting, we’re going to take the time to engage,” she said, citing the 2021 attack on the Table Mesa King Soopers that killed 10 people.

The legislature will meet again on January 9th.

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