Colorado lawmakers, after several days of debate, give early approval to gun control package
Mar 11, 2023 Updated Mar 15, 2023
Sen. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial (at left) listens to testimony on a trio of gun bills, March 8, 2023.
After two days of debate and filibuster, the Democrats who control the majority in both chambers of the Colorado General Assembly approved a package of proposals they say will help curb gun violence in the state. The House on Saturday signed off on House Bill 1219, which establishes a three-day waiting period after purchasing a firearm but before delivery of that weapon. House Republicans staged a filibuster on the bill for 14 hours, beginning early Thursday afternoon and continuing into early Friday morning. The most significant change to the bill came from a Republican-sponsored amendment to remove its safety clause, which would have allowed the measure to become law with the governor's signature. Instead, HB 1219 now has a petition clause, which would allow citizens to petition for a ballot measure for voters to decide on the law as soon as the 2024 general election. That mechanism has only been used twice since 1932 — on a bill that year on oleomargarine, and in 2020, when two Republicans now in the state House launched a campaign to overturn Colorado's participation in the national popular vote. That campaign made it to the 2020 ballot but voters approved the legislature's decision. Lawmakers avoided a filibuster on Saturday, as third reading votes — that's when the full chamber votes on a measure — limit the amount of time someone can speak to 10 minutes each. But most of the Republicans used the maximum time allotted to make one final push for votes against the measure, leading to a debate of more than three hours. Lawmakers split 44-20 on HB 1219, with two Democrats voting with Republicans. That included a "no" vote from Rep. Said Sharbini, D-Thornton, who also voted against the bill when it was heard in the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Wednesday, as well as from Rep. Bob Marshall, D-Highlands Ranch. The Senate worked on the other three bills for about 13 hours on Friday, adjourning just before midnight. The longest debate occurred over Senate Bill 170, which seeks to broaden the list of those who can seek an extreme risk protection order — better known as Colorado's red flag law — to remove firearms from someone who is considered a danger to themselves or to others. SB 170 adds district attorneys; health care providers, including mental health professionals; and, educators at both the K-12 and higher education levels to those who can seek the red flag petition. Currently, petitions can be sought only by law enforcement and family and other household members. The second bill, Senate Bill 168, allows gun victims to sue for damages in civil court firearms manufacturers, as well as dealers. The measure is a work around to a 2005 federal law, known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which has shielded the firearms industry from civil lawsuits. SB 170 was amended with several technical changes on Friday, while SB 168 was not amended during the debate. That wasn't the case for the third bill, Senate Bill 169, which, as first reported by Colorado Politics early Friday, was rewritten with a major amendment offered by co-sponsor Sen. Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton. SB 168 bans the sale or possession of firearms for those between the ages of 18 and 21. Current law allows 18-year-old individuals to purchase and possess firearms. As a rationale for the legislation, supporters pointed to mass shootings increasingly being committed by those under the age of 21, including at Columbine and the STEM school in Highlands Ranch. The Mullica amendment addressed a host of concerns about conflicts the law would create for rural Coloradans and for young people who want to participate in hunter education programs offered by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife. Those programs are available to those as young as 10 years old. As introduced, the bill allowed those under 21 to use a firearm only with the supervision of an immediate family member over the age of 25. As amended in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Wednesday, the bill created an affirmative defense for Coloradans who must defend livestock from predators. Mullica told Colorado Politics that language is also used in the state's safe storage law and added he is trying to be consistent with that law. However, the bill was rewritten to remove that language, and, as changed, allows for an individual aged 18 to 21 to possess — but not purchase — a firearm for defense of livestock, active-duty military and law enforcement, for target or sport-shooting, for gunsmithing classes offered at state colleges and for those who hold hunting licenses or are enrolled in the state's hunter education programs. (Currently, only Trinidad State offers a gunsmithing program). The three Senate bills are slated for a final vote in the Senate on Monday. Meanwhile, HB 1219 now heads to the Senate.