DENVER — Months after the state’s latest mass shooting, Colorado’s Democratic-controlled Legislature has passed a package of gun control measures that are expected to be signed by the state’s governor and more closely align it with the liberal strongholds of California and New York.
The proposals include strengthening red flag laws, raising the firearm purchasing age to 21, opening the gun industry up to legal liability and installing a three-day waiting period after buying a gun.
A measure set to be debated Wednesday that would implement a sweeping ban on semi-automatic firearms faces much stiffer odds and illustrates that even Democratic-controlled statehouses don’t have free rein on overhauling laws rooted deep in American culture.
Hundreds of people have signed up to testify at the proposal’s first hearing in what is expected to be a passionate hearing with a mix of gun owners opposing the measure and supporters campaigning to reduce gun violence that plagues the country.
Colorado has suffered some of the nation’s most notorious massacres, including 13 killed in 1999 at Columbine High School, 12 killed in 2012 at an Aurora movie theater, 10 killed in 2021 at a Boulder supermarket and five killed last November at a Colorado Springs gay nightclub.
Just last month, after a student shot two administrators in a Denver high school, waves of chanting students and teachers filled Colorado’s Capitol demanding the laws be passed.
The Capitol’s halls were filled with high schoolers locked in debate with lawmakers. Others lay on the marble floors in front of Gov. Jared Polis’ office until he appeared to hear their grievances. One student who disrupted proceedings in the House was carried out by law enforcement.
While deeply Democratic states like California, New York and Massachusetts have restricted semi-automatic rifles, the proposal in Colorado has revealed divides even among Democrats and incited ongoing contention between the urban and rural parts of the state.
Democrats have collectively forced the other gun control measures through the House, Senate and toward the governor’s desk, but the semi-automatic firearm ban has not received the same urgency. Polis, a Democrat, has demurred from questions on the ban. It is a state where Democrats know well that going too far on gun laws can put them in political peril.
A decade ago, Colorado voters ousted two state lawmakers in first-ever recall elections that came in reaction to the Democrats’ support for tougher gun laws in the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting.
While Democrats control both of Colorado’s chambers, Republican lawmakers have put up a vigorous fight against the other measures this year, filibustering into the wee hours of the morning as debates spilled into long weekends. The attempt to stymie what Republicans considered burdensome and unconstitutional policies finally ran aground when Speaker of the House Rep. Julie McCluskie, a Democrat, invoked a rarely used rule — considered the nuclear option — to shut down debate and push the bills to a vote.
Republicans decried the move as silencing their voices and, by extension, the voices of their constituents.
The measures are being considered as Colorado, along with a number of cities including Boulder, are being sued by groups like the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners over a statewide 15-round magazine capacity limit and a semi-automatic rifle ban. The gun rights groups were encouraged by a recent Supreme Court decision that set new standards for courts evaluating gun laws.