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Colorado Senate OKs bill to raise age to buy firearms to 21, approves 2 other gun bills

More than a dozen Democratic lawmakers were joined by advocates from Moms Demand Action and the the Brady Center, as well as Adams County District Attorney Brian Mason and Tom Mauser, whose son was murdered at Columbine, to announce a package of four gun control bills at the state Capitol, Feb. 23, 2023.

  • The Colorado Senate on Monday approved a proposal to raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21. Supporters argue the legislation, Senate Bill 169, would save lives and help prevent young people from committing violence using a gun, while critics say the package of gun bills Democrat are pushing for would turn law-abiding citizens into criminals. Current federal law bars individuals under 21 from buying a handgun but those who are 18 can purchase a long firearm. The bill raises the age limit to buy any firearm to 21, with some exceptions. “Gun deaths in Colorado climb higher every year, and a disproportionate number of them are committed by younger Coloradans,” said Sen. Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton, one of the bill's sponsors. “As an ER nurse I’ve seen firsthand the devastating ways gun violence impacts our communities, which is why I am proud to champion this bill that will reduce gun violence and save lives all across our state.” “Young people aged 12-24 make up one-fifth of the population, but commit just under half of all gun murders,” added Sen. Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge. “Raising the age to purchase a firearm will keep more deadly weapons away from our youth, reduce youth suicide rates, and make our communities safer.” As amended, SB 169 provides a handful of exceptions — for active-duty military, law enforcement officers, those with hunting licenses or people who are enrolled in the state's hunter education programs, provided through the Division of Parks and Wildlife to youth as young as 10; for shooting or target sports; and, for individuals who need firearms to defend livestock against predators. The latter exception applies only to possession of a firearm, not for purchasing one. Sen. Jim Smallwood, R-Parker, pointed out the bill would not allow a young mother under 21, for example, to purchase a firearm for self-defense, although it would allow her to possess one. "It would be illegal" for someone to acquire a firearm for self-defense under that scenario, he said, calling the bill "half-baked." The bill is confusing, added Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, R-Highlands Ranch, who said it won't protect victims of stalking or domestic violence. The final vote on SB 169 was 20 to 15, with three Democrats — Sens. Kevin Priola of Henderson, Dylan Roberts of Eagle and Nick Hinrichsen of Pueblo — voting with the chamber's 12 Republicans. The bill is one of three measures that received final approval from the Senate. Senate Bill 170, which seeks expand the state's red flag law, also known as the extreme risk protection order (ERPO), allows district attorneys, educators in K-12 and higher education and medical professionals, including mental health providers, to seek those petitions. Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, a co-sponsor of SB 170, said the bill isn't the only answer but it's part of the answer. It will interrupt the cycle of violence before it turns tragic, he said. The bill doesn't change anything about the way ERPO works, he said, adding that nothing about the process or criteria is changing. Instead, it adds people who can petition the court under the current process. He also challenged statements by Senate Republicans that 70% of the orders submitted by individuals were fraudulent. Those orders weren't fraudulent — they just didn't meet the criteria to issue an order, Fenberg said. SB 170 passed on a 21-14 vote, with Priola voting with Republicans against the measure. The third bill, Senate Bill 168, allows victims of gun violence to sue in civil court firearms manufacturers and gun dealers. Sen. Chris Kolker, D-Littleton, told the Senate the bill's intent is to repeal the "overprotection" granted to the firearms industry through current state law, as well as to align liability with the 2005 federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. That law provides immunity to the industry with exceptions, and those exceptions apply to what's included in SB 168, Kolker said. Senate Minority Leader Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, said the bill would not apply to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which he believes also distributes and markets the sale of a firearm. Meanwhile, industries that have nothing to do with culpability of a heinous act would be caught up in a web of lawsuits, he said. The measure passed on a 22-13 vote, with Priola and Roberts voting with Republicans. All three bills now head to the House.

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