Expecting a “Tough Fight,” Colorado House Dems Introduce New Gun Bills
Two Democratic state lawmakers, both with personal stories of gun violence, have introduced two complementary firearms bills in the state legislature.
Rep. Monica Duran, a co-sponsor on a bill requiring firearm storage, described experiencing domestic violence. “(I) have lived through this process of a gun not being stored properly and having access to that and threatening my life and my son's life so it is extremely personal to me,” Duran said.
At the same time, Rep. Tom Sullivan, is co-sponsoring a bill requiring people to file a report with local law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen.
“I have been stakeholding this issue for 398 Fridays since my son Alex was murdered in the Aurora theater massacre and will talk to anybody, anywhere, at any time so that we can stop this crisis.” Sullivan said. “This is a public health crisis that we have in our community of people dying of gun violence.”
Both Duran and Sullivan described the two bills as educational, though each has a punitive element.
The storage bill creates the misdemeanor criminal offense of ‘unlawful storage,’ in requiring that firearm owners store their guns so that kids and other prohibited people who live in the home can’t get access. Under the bill, firearms dealers would have to provide a gun lock with each gun sold, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment would be tasked with developing an educational campaign for safe storage.
“Even though many gun owners are responsible in their storage, we’re still hearing about teen suicide. We’re still hearing about accidental shootings,” Duran said, noting that she is a gun owner herself.
Studies show that while a majority of Americans support safe storage laws, over half of gun owners don’t lock up their firearms. Young people living in homes with unsecured guns are at especially high risk of suicide and injury, with one analysis showing more than 80% of young suicide victims used a firearm belonging to a family member, usually a parent.
But safe storage laws, which are in place in a handful of states, are difficult to enforce.
“The guns I have in my house, I can store them any way I want, for as long as I live here,” Harry Wilson, the director of the Institute of Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College, told Guns & America last year. “No one is going to come and check to see if I’m in compliance with any law or not in compliance with any law.”
The other new firearms bill that will soon make its way through the statehouse requires a person to report any lost or stolen firearms to local law enforcement within 48 hours of discovering the guns missing. Failure to do so results in a $25 fine, and then a misdemeanor offense if it happens again.
Law enforcement agencies across the state report hundreds of firearms are stolen from cars every year. In Larimer County, 613 firearms were stolen between 2016 and 2018, many of which were in unlocked homes and cars and ended up in the possession of young people, according to the county's juvenile gun safety campaign website. This new program focuses, in part, on safety and storage.
In drafting the two gun bills, Duran and Sullivan say they met with a broad coalition of stakeholders including gun control advocates, hunters, faith leaders and the National Rifle Association.
But gun legislation in Colorado has been controversial in recent years. The state’s new Extreme Risk Protection Order law, which allows the removal of guns from people who are in crisis, passed narrowly last year after contentious debate. In 2013, two state senators lost their seats in an historical recall election after voting in favor of a package of gun control bills.
These two Democrats hope this year will be different.
“My hope is that we can get a couple of (Republicans) to come over on some simple, common-sense laws… it will be an unsuccessful gun violence prevention session if we don’t,” Sullivan said.
But House Minority Leader Patrick Neville plans to oppose both bills, saying in a statement that the storage bill is unenforceable and the lost and stolen firearms bill criminalizes victims of theft.
“Democrats have once again come knocking for more gun control. This time, it’s with 'Safe Storage' and 'Lost and Stolen' gun bills. Neither of these bills do anything to fight violence. Instead, Democrats once again set their sights on law-abiding gun owners by trying to turn them into criminals,” Neville said.