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Colorado Democrats unveil plans for sweeping gun reform

Senator Tom Sullivan speaks from a podium with an American flag to his right, an individual seated in a wheelchair to his left and numerous others standing on stair steps behind him.
Lucas Brady Woods
Sen. Tom Sullivan, pictured here at the podium on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, lost his son to a mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater in 2012. He's sponsoring one of the four gun-related bills introduced by Democrats.

In an effort to curb gun violence, Democrat lawmakers introduced a package of four bills on Thursday. Coincidentally, these efforts were presented within days of a state-wide "swatting" episode that left school districts, parents and children at schools across the country concerned that an active shooter may be at their schools.

Senate Bill 170 would amend Colorado’s red flag laws, also called Extreme Risk Protection Orders or ERPO laws. The bill would expand who can petition for someone’s guns to be removed if they pose a threat to themselves or others, to include teachers, doctors, mental health care providers and district attorneys.

Bill sponsor Sen. Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the 2012 mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater, says lawmakers have a mandate to address gun violence.

“Maybe something could have been done differently,” Sullivan said, referring to the night his son was killed. “That difference I believe, will save lives. I will never stop in my quest to save the life of another Coloradan from the public health crisis that is gun violence. This bill is just that type of legislation that can help all of us in the work we have been asked to do.”

Another bill in the package, House Bill 1219, would mandate a three-day waiting period for all gun purchases. Rep. Judy Amabile is one of the bill’s sponsors, and she says a delay between a gun purchase and acquisition prevented her son from taking his own life.

“It is going to save people who are in my son’s situation,” Amabile said. “There’s a lot of them, who have a moment when they think 'I can’t handle this anymore,' and they go and get a gun and then they’re dead and there is no coming back from that."

Senate Bill 168 would make it easier for victims of gun violence to sue firearms manufacturers. It would allow people to file lawsuits against manufacturers and guns stores if they believe they hold responsibility for harm caused by their products.

Senate Bill 169 would raise the purchasing age for guns from 18 to 21 with some exceptions. Currently, Colorado defers to federal law, which sets the minimum age at 21 for handgun purchases and at 18 for other types of guns. Under the new bill, people under 21 years old could still purchase some guns, if they have a hunting license. They would also be able to use and possess firearms under the direct supervision of an adult over the age of 25.

Republicans say they will oppose the bills because they violate Coloradans' second amendment rights, but they do not have the numbers to vote them down.

"Firearms create, if nothing else, a deterrent," said House Minority Leader Mike Lynch in response to the Democrats' bills. "The more we send the message out to the bad guys, that we're going to remove that deterrent from you, the more danger a lot of my constituents are in. We will do whatever we can to soften this blow to our communities."

Gun rights groups also oppose the measures. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners says it plans to challenge all of the bills in court.

I’m the Statehouse Reporter at KUNC, which means I help make sense of the latest developments at the Colorado State Capitol. I cover the legislature, the governor, and government agencies.