With two recent school shootings happening less than two miles from the Capitol and with residents becoming outraged about the rising rates of gun violence, Democrats in the Colorado Legislature have introduced a monumental gun control package consisting of four bills that began progressing through the Legislature in March. Each bill proposes a different gun safety policy that Democrats believe can help alleviate the violence in communities and improve the safety of residents.
SB 169: Age Requirements to Purchase Firearms
SB 169 would raise the age requirements to purchase or possess firearms in Colorado from 18 to 21 years old. Supporters of the bill contend that many incidents of street violence or mass shootings are perpetrated by people younger than 21 and that implementing this policy could hinder them from purchasing new guns and committing violent crimes. However, opponents argue that the bill would violate the Second Amendment by depriving people between the ages of 18-21 of the right to own guns for self-defense.
SB 168: Permitting Lawsuits Against Gun Manufacturers
Colorado currently prevents residents from filing lawsuits against gun manufacturers except for cases in which the firearm products featured manufacturing defects. SB 168 would remove this limitation and allow gun violence victims or attorneys general to file lawsuits against members of the gun industry.
Supporters contend that the bill would provide recourse for people who have been harmed by irresponsible practices of gun industry members to remedy the harm, redress the grievance, and deter the misconduct. In contrast, opponents contend that the threat of arbitrary lawsuits would restrict legitimate businesses in the industry from being able to operate in the state.
HB 1219: Establishing the Waiting Period
In Colorado, background checks for gun buyers typically take minutes to complete and customers can usually purchase the guns without delay. HB 1219 would change this by implementing a three-day waiting period that would start when the background check is first initiated.
Supporters contend that the three-day wait could save lives by giving customers who are in distress time to calm down, relieve the distress, and refrain from carrying out acts of self-harm or community violence. However, opponents argue that the waiting period violates the Second Amendment right of customers to buy firearms for protection in a timely manner.
SB 170: Expansion of Red Flag Law
SB 170 would expand Colorado policies on Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) petitions. This is commonly known as a Red Flag law because people who are concerned that someone poses a threat to others or themselves can file an ERPO petition to ask a judge to have the guns removed before any harm can occur.
“We’ve heard from the opposition that guns don’t hurt people, people with guns hurt people, and the ERPO bill addresses that point,” says State Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a sponsor of the bill and a representative for Northeast Denver. “If people through due process are shown to be a danger to themselves or others, and if they have self-harm ideation or community-harm ideation, they shouldn’t have those weapons and we should have a process to remove them.”
The Red Flag law was first implemented for Colorado in 2020. But that ERPO policy only allowed petitions to be filed by individual family members or law enforcement officers. The ERPO petition is filed in court, evidence is presented to a judge, and then the judge can determine whether to approve or deny the petition. If the judge approves the petition, the subjects would have their guns confiscated and would be prohibited from purchasing new firearms for either two weeks with “temporary” petitions or for one year with “continuing” petitions.
SB 170 would expand the scope of ERPO by allowing more groups to file petitions. Instead of just individuals and police officers, the bill would add four new professions to the list, including mental health workers, district attorneys, health care providers, and school educators.
“We’re always asking the question after mass shootings if someone knew or had an idea there was an issue,” says Rep. Bacon. “These professions are ones who can see patterns of behavior, so we just want to be sure that the people who spend the most time with these folks are able to utilize this tool.”
Supporters contend that expanding the scope of ERPO can solve problems that are impairing the efficacy of the policy. A report from Colorado Public Radio demonstrated that ERPO was being utilized in Colorado far less than in other states, that many counties were refusing to enforce the policy, and that individuals were filing the petitions and succeeding in courts at substantially lower rates than police officers.
“Red Flag laws are one of the most effective tools we have to prevent gun violence—but unfortunately Colorado’s Red Flag law is tragically underutilized,” says Senate President and bill co-sponsor Steve Fenberg (D-Boulder) in a statement to Front Porch. “Senate Bill 170 will strengthen our state’s Red Flag law and increase the number of individuals who can file for an extreme risk protection order, which will create more opportunities for community members to recognize when something is wrong and intervene in a way that will prevent further gun violence and save countless lives across our state.”
Front Porch reached out to multiple Republican leaders in the House and Senate for comments or interviews, but did not receive responses before press time.
House Judiciary Committee Hearing on SB 170
On March 22, the House Judiciary Committee heard testimony from supporters and opponents of SB 170. Just hours before the hearing, a student at Denver East High School pulled out a gun during a security check, shot two deans inside the school, and put the students into lockdown protocols. This was the second shooting in a one-month span at Denver East, which added an extra layer of urgency to the concerns about gun violence and caused the shooting to be mentioned consistently during the witness testimonies.
The testimony from Denver East student Alexander Cisneros carried significant gravity. Cisneros already planned on testifying in support of SB 170, but the shooting at his school just hours prior to the hearing made his perspectives on gun violence especially personal and his calls to allow teachers to file ERPO petitions particularly poignant.
“Is there anyone more qualified than the teachers and health professionals who come to understand their students? I should like to know what professionals are considered qualified if not these,” said Cisneros during his testimony. “We tell our teachers what we never tell our parents. We form connections with those adults to the point that our teachers care for us and our well-being. So if a student speaks of a serious desire to do harm to themselves or others, is that not something that we should take seriously to save lives?”
Witnesses on both sides articulated multiple arguments when discussing the bill throughout the hearing. For opponents, some worried that ERPO petitions would violate their Second Amendment rights, would prevent people from receiving mental health treatment, or would be filed unnecessarily for revenge.
For supporters, many witnesses emphasized that more effective Red Flag laws could have prevented family members from committing suicide, the Club Q shooter from purchasing new guns, or the Boulder shooter from attacking the King Soopers victims.
After hearing from the witnesses, the members of the House Judiciary Committee delivered their statements and cast their votes on the bill. With a 9-4 vote, the bill to expand ERPO passed through the committee.
At the time of publication, the bill was moving to the House floor. If it is approved by the House it will be sent to the Governor. Front Porch will continue to provide updates regarding SB 170 and the other gun control bills.