Colorado

Colorado lawmakers are considering a ban on semi-automatic weapons

DENVER (AP) — Two decades after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and two months after five people were killed at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado lawmakers are drafting a sweeping ban on semi-automatic firearms.

If the ambitious law passes, Colorado would become the nation’s 10th state to ban the sale and transfer of certain semi-automatic weapons while retaining the state’s existing guns. California passed its ban in 1989, and Illinois’ ban went into effect two weeks ago.

While Democrats have strong majorities in both houses of the Colorado legislature, the bill faces an uncertain prospect.

The bill has already sparked a conservative backlash and the preparation of lawsuits from the local branch of the National Rifle Association, and while the Democratic leadership has tentatively backed it, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has been non-binding on the legislation. A hearing has yet to be held at the Colorado Statehouse, which opened its session earlier this month.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic Rep. Andrew Boesenecker, said there is still a long way to go before the bill is introduced, with more stakeholders to be heard and potential concerns to be addressed. Boesenecker remains confident in his support, adding: “I always count my votes.”

For Boesenecker, an Evangelical Lutheran pastor and former music teacher who represents a district north of Denver that includes the city of Fort Collins, the details of the bill will take time, but the argument is simple.

“I take my kids to school,” he said, “I couldn’t go on living anymore…not knowing what was going to happen to them, I dropped them off and picked them up in time.”

His bill prohibits the sale, transfer, importation, and manufacture of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines that also have one or more of seven features, including a pistol grip, flash hider, folding stock, or threaded barrel. The ban would also extend to certain semi-automatic shotguns and handguns, but would allow some exceptions, including for military personnel and law enforcement officials.

Colorado residents who already own semi-automatic guns are allowed to keep them. However, rapid-fire trigger activators, devices that alter a firearm’s rate of fire, are banned by law with a vengeance.

Boesenecker argues that the bill would create a gap between a person’s motivation to commit an act of violence and the ready availability of a weapon to carry it out. While a state ban would discourage people from merely going beyond statehood to acquire semi-automatic firearms, he said, “states really need to lead the way.”

Colorado’s history has been marked by some of the country’s worst mass shootings, killing an estimated 88 people since 2013, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which includes all shootings that killed or injured at least four people, not counting the attacker. In recent years, ten people were killed at a supermarket in the college town of Boulder in 2021 and five people were killed in the November 2022 shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

Authorities said the suspects used semi-automatic rifles in both shootings. While Boulder suspect Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa legally purchased his gun, police have not disclosed how suspect Anderson Lee Aldrich obtained the gun used in Colorado Springs.

Concerns about mass gun violence have risen after three state-shattering mass shootings swept across California in the space of eight days.

In Colorado, a state that has only recently become a Democrat stronghold and has a libertarian streak, Republicans argue that the bill would not only limit Second Amendment rights but ban an important instrument.

“I think those are kind of knee-jerk reactions,” said Rep. Michael Lynch, the House Republican minority leader, who said he doesn’t see any version of the bill as palatable. “I don’t represent a bunch of crazy people who carry guns, but they’re people who make it more of a living.”

Lynch pointed to guns being used to shoot coyotes attacking sheep, but more importantly, he said, is owning a criminal deterrent weapon. Understanding that rural Colorado residents are likely to be armed might make criminals think twice before looking for an easy target in areas where the sheriff’s response takes half an hour, he argued.

“It doesn’t take into account the rural parts of the state,” Lynch said. “No one in Denver thinks about it.”

Colorado Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Democrat, said he would vote for the bill and he believes most Democrats would too. He added that “it may not be the most effective public policy to save lives”.

“Most of the lives that are lost are not from mass shootings,” said Fenberg, who worried that the vast majority of gun violence victims — suicide and street violence — would be overlooked by focusing solely on mass shootings and semi-automatic firearm bans.

“I think there are probably policies that might make sense before an assault weapons ban policy,” he said.

Among the solutions, Fenberg says, are a number of other bills, such as raising the minimum age to purchase a shotgun or rifle from 18 to 21 and strengthening red-flag laws that allow law enforcement to temporarily disarm someone .

He said the ban on semi-automatic weapons “may not even be enforceable, but we’re going to talk about it every 100 days.”

Concerns about the legality of the ban arise from ongoing court cases against local communities in Colorado, including Boulder, who have enacted similar gun restrictions. Last year, a federal judge issued an injunction preventing the city of Superior from enforcing its ban.

While eight other states have semi-automatic firearm bans — California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York — Illinois’ ban, passed just this month, still stands an injunction after a judge faced legal challenges, according to the Giffords Law Center enacted

Daniel Fenlason, executive director of the Colorado State Shooting Association, said his organization is collecting donations from supporters in anticipation of a court battle and is receiving support from its parent organization, the National Rifle Association.

“This bill hits almost every type of gun owner,” said Fenlason, who said he hoped for a backlash from more middle-street Democrats and the governor. “I think a lot of Democratic Party leaders see that and don’t want to negatively impact hunters or single mothers who are trying to protect their families.”

Polis, who has expressed support for expanding red-flag laws, has avoided questions about his stance on banning semi-automatic firearms. The governor sponsored a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons as a congressman in 2018.

Asked about the proposal, Polis spokesman Conor Cahill again declined to comment, saying only in a statement that the governor “looks forward to hearing more ideas from Democrats and Republicans on how to effectively reduce violent crime.”

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