Colorado Democrats unveil gun control package

It includes a red flag law expansion, a requirement that firearms purchasers are 21 years old, and a three-day waiting period for purchases.
Colorado State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, prepares to address fellow lawmakers as the legislative session opens in the Senate chambers Monday, Jan. 9, 2023, in Denver. Colorado is the second state in the union to have a majority of House and Senate seats filled by women and also has the largest LGBTQ caucus of any legislature in the country. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Democrats released a package of four bills to help reduce gun violence, three months after five people were killed and at least 19 injured at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs.

The bills would require that firearms purchasers are 21, impose a three-day waiting period for purchases, and repeal protections shielding gun manufacturers from lawsuits. The legislation also includes an expansion of the existing red flag law to allow teachers, mental health professionals and others to ask a judge to remove firearms from a person deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Gov. Jared Polis (D) declared support for a red flag law expansion during his State of the State speech last month, citing the Club Q shooting. His party is well-positioned to get the legislative package to his desk, with majorities in both chambers.

“Far too many Colorado families have suffered through the unimaginable pain of having someone they love killed by a gun, which is why Democrats are committed to ending the scourge of gun violence in our state,” Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg (D) said in a statement.

Colorado initially passed its red flag law, which allows police or family members to seek approval from a judge to remove guns from a person that exhibits concerning behavior, in 2019. But according to an Associated Press analysis, Colorado has one of the lowest use rates of its red flag law.

Colorado issued only 3.3 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents through 2021, ranking the sixth lowest among 19 states that have Red Flag laws. That contrasts with Florida, which issued 33.6 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents. According to one study, for every 10 to 20 protection orders, one suicide might be averted.

“Our Red Flag law has already saved lives in Colorado, but we can strengthen it so that it can be even more effective,” Sen. Tom Sullivan (D), the red flag measure’s lead sponsor, said in a statement.

Colorado was the site of two of the most high-profile mass shootings in the country’s history: at Columbine High School in Littleton, where two students murdered 13 people and 21 were injured in 1999; and at an Aurora movie theater in 2012, where 12 people were killed and 70 injured by a single shooter.

Sullivan’s son was a victim of the Aurora shooting. The incident spurred him to run for the legislature in 2018, and he sponsored the red flag measure that became law in 2019.

Democrats also want to repeal a law that protects gun manufacturers, including a provision that makes victims of gun violence who sue the gun industry pay the company’s legal fees in dismissed cases.

Lawmakers frequently point to Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter was killed in Aurora. The couple sued four online retailers that sold magazines, thousands of rounds of ammunition, and body armor to the assailant. Under Colorado’s immunity law, the couple were forced to pay the ammunition dealers about $200,000 in legal fees, and eventually had to sell their house and declare bankruptcy.

“These laws shield [the gun industry] from accountability and must be changed,” Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D) said in a statement.

The legislation also targets the eligible age to purchase firearms. Currently, individuals must be 21 to purchase a handgun, but only 18 years old to purchase long guns.

The measure includes exceptions for 18 to 21-year-olds who are peace officers, military members, antique weapons collectors, have completed a hunter’s safety education course, and hold a hunting license. It would also allow individuals 18 to 21 years old to possess a firearm while under the direct supervision of an immediate family member.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Sen. Kyle Mullica (D), is an emergency room nurse and said he believes the measure will help reduce gun violence especially among young people.

“Gun deaths in Colorado climb higher every year, and a disproportionate number of them are committed by younger Coloradans,” Mullica said in a statement.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, firearms are the leading cause of death for 18- to 20-year-olds in the U.S., and the firearm suicide rate among the age group has increased by 61% in the last decade.

Rep. Meg Froelich (D), the lead sponsor of a bill that would require a three-day waiting period on gun purchases, said her measure would help reduce suicide deaths and homicides.

“By delaying access to a firearm, waiting periods create opportunities to intervene and prevent impulsive acts of gun violence,” Froelich said in a statement.