Colorado state Democrats have introduced three new gun bills in response to the Boulder shooting last month that would expand background check requirements for firearm transfers, allow localities to regulate firearms and establish an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention.”
The trio of proposals is part of Democrats’ push for stricter gun laws in the wake of more than 100 mass shootings so far this year alone and the stalling of federal action to combat America’s gun violence epidemic.
“There’s nothing we can do to bring back the lives that were stolen from us. There’s no single policy we can pass that can guarantee no more lives will be taken from us. We also know that we must continue to demand federal action on gun violence prevention. But this cannot be an excuse for inaction,” Colorado Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg said Thursday during a news conference alongside other Democratic sponsors of the bills.
Fenberg’s bill, Senate Bill 256, would repeal a state law prohibiting a local government from imposing bans on the sale, purchase or possession of a firearm. The bill would allow a local government to enact ordinances or regulations banning a firearm so long as it’s “not less restrictive” than state laws.
The 21-year-old suspect in the Boulder massacre allegedly used a Ruger AR-556 pistol – a type of AR-15 rifle but with a shorter barrel. He had purchased the weapon six days before the shooting that killed 10 people, according to his arrest warrant affidavit, and modified the weapon with an arm brace, a law enforcement source had told CNN.
The March 22 shooting in Boulder drew attention to an ordinance the Boulder City Council had passed in 2018 that banned the sale and possession of assault weapons and large capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. A mere 10 days before the Boulder shooting, a Colorado district judge blocked the city from enforcing its ban, saying the ordinance was invalid because state law preempts it.
“We know that this specific policy wouldn’t have single-handedly prevented this specific shooting in Boulder,” Fenberg said Thursday of his bill. “But this example speaks to a larger conversation about the tools we give local governments to craft community-based solutions to the gun violence that they face.”
He argued that each community has the “unique expertise to know what it takes to make them safe” and “deserves the authority to enact laws that get them there.”
House Bill 1298 would require licensed gun dealers to get approval from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation that a background check is complete before transferring a firearm.
The bill requires the bureau to deny approval of a firearm transfer to a person convicted of certain misdemeanor offenses, including third-degree assault, sexual assault, child abuse or a hate crime, within the last five years.
The measure also extends the 30-day deadline to 60 days for the bureau to review and give a final decision in an appeal from someone who is denied a firearms transfer after a background check.
The suspect in the Boulder shooting had passed a background check to purchase the weapon in Arvada, a suburb of Denver, according to the gun shop that sold the suspect the firearm.
The suspect had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of third-degree assault in 2018 after attacking a high school classmate a year earlier, according to court documents and a police report. He was sentenced to one year of probation, 48 hours of community service and anger response treatment, court documents said.
House Bill 1299 creates an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention” within Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment to “coordinate and promote effective efforts to reduce gun violence and related traumas and promote research regarding causes of, and evidence-based responses to, gun violence.”
“We need to have data to drive informed decisions and strategies moving forward, especially as it relates to communities of color,” Democratic state Sen. Rhonda Fields, one of the bill’s main sponsors, said Thursday. “We need to be able to track what’s going on and use that information to incorporate as many people as we can to address this dilemma we’re facing.”
Another role of the office, Fenberg said, will be to “engage, educate, intervene in communities on the issues and the policies” that Colorado already has passed “to make them more effective.”
Democrats have full control of Colorado’s government, with a 20-15 majority in the Colorado Senate and a 41-24 majority in the state House, making it likely the three pieces of legislation could pass. The two House bills will be considered in committee next week, and the Senate bill will be taken up the following week, according to a General Assembly spokesperson.
Senate Republicans are just now reviewing the legislation and “will keep an open mind when doing so,” spokesman Sage Naumann said in a statement to CNN.
“With that being said, we urge our colleagues to focus on mental health funding and programs and not the punishing or restricting of law-abiding, gun-owning Coloradans,” he added.
House Minority Leader Hugh McKean said in a statement that the “rhetoric around these most recent bills, as if they represent the preeminent solution, is simply a fallacy.”
The Republican leader argued that “revamping the background check system” would be “arbitrary” and creating an Office of Gun Violence Prevention will “only starve real efforts of scarce resources. He suggested “a good start to finding solutions” to gun violence “would be to increase the reimbursement rate for mental and behavioral health services.”
“Everyone, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, is sick from the recent incidents of violence. The challenge is to affect change at the root cause. It is not a coincidence that the discussion of mental health is paramount. We have to do more and find avenues that destigmatize and make more readily available mental and behavioral health services,” he said.
Republicans offered three amendments to the state budget this year that would cover access to mental health services. The amendments didn’t make it into the final budget.
Fenberg said at Thursday’s news conference that lawmakers are already focused on mental health and will continue to do so in other legislation “that may not have the word ‘gun’ in it.”
“We’re going to take big steps on mental health this year and in the years to come that I think will have a big impact on this and can play a big role in the Office of Gun Violence Prevention,” he said.
He also appeared to suggest that further gun legislation could be introduced.
Fenberg had told CNN in late March – while lawmakers were in the “early stages” of discussing gun proposals in the wake of the Boulder shooting – that Democrats were weighing a statewide assault weapons ban, among other policy proposals.
Colorado Democratic Gov. Jared Polis last week signed two bills into law tightening gun regulations – one that requires gun owners to report their lost or stolen firearms within five days and another that mandates owners to “responsibly and securely” store their firearms when not in use, to prevent juveniles and other unauthorized users from accessing them. No Republican lawmakers voted for either of those two bills.
“Colorado is a leader in taking common sense actions that prevent gun violence while preserving people’s 2nd amendment rights, and I look forward to working with legislators on these important next steps,” Polis said in a Friday statement. “While we will need to see final details of the legislation, the common sense strategies proposed by the legislature can be important tools for reducing gun violence. I applaud the legislature for proposing bold, courageous actions to keep Coloradans safer and reduce violent crime.”
Colorado has also implemented an “Extreme Risk Protection Order,” also known as a “red flag” law, and prohibits high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 15 rounds.
CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Travis Caldwell, Samira Said, Mallika Kallingal and Whitney Wild contributed to this report.