The First Regular Session of Colorados Seventy-fourth General Assembly convened January 9, 2023 with Colorado Democrats holding a super-majority in the House 46-19 and a near super-majority 23-12 in the Senate over their Republican colleagues.
In the House, Julie McCluskie, of Dillion and representative for Colorados district 13, was elected speaker of the House with 55 votes. Though typically the process is unanimous, eight of the 19 House Republicans voted against McCluskie: DeGraff, Bottoms, Frizell, Bradley, Holtorf, Luck, Weinberg and Winter. Six of those eight are new to the House and the legislature this year after being elected on Nov. 8.
During the opening day speech, Speaker McCluskie previewed gun-focused legislation that Democrats will push for and subsequently Republicans will attempt to stall.
“Our efforts to reduce gun violence this session will focus on expanding how and when a red flag petition can be filed so that more key moments can be acted upon to interrupt potential acts of violence,” McCluskie said. “Furthermore, we will increase waiting periods and the age limits to purchase a firearm.”
Current Colorado law requires an individual to be 18 to purchase a rifle or long gun and 21 to purchase a handgun.
The same day, the Colorado Senate elected Senate President Fenberg, who resides in Boulder and represents Colorados district 18. In his opening remarks, Fenberg, like McCluskie, also spoke about prioritizing gun violence prevention.
The proposal to expand the red flag law, also known as extreme risk protection orders, would allow professionals like counselors and district attorneys to bring petitions to a judge, rather than only law enforcement officers and family members. Fenberg said the bill will be sponsored by Centennial Democratic Sen. Tom Sullivan, who lost his son in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
“Nobody is saying that Coloradans don’t have the right to defend themselves and own a gun,” Fenberg said. “We’re saying that, in a civilized society, where people expect the freedom to live with basic security and safety, we must be willing to consider that there are some people who are not fit to possess a deadly weapon because of the extreme risk they pose to themselves and others.”
While giving their opening remarks, Speaker of the House McCluskie and Senate President Fenberg failed to mentioned a draft bill entitled “Mass Shooting Prevention Act of 2023” a piece of new gun legislation that would render a definition of what an “assault weapon” is and would then outlaw the purchase, sell, or possession of said weapon in Colorado once the bill becomes a law.
The weekend before the new session began the gun lobby group, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO), received the leaked draft bill from an “unlikely ally” according to RMGO Executive Director Taylor Rhodes.
The Mass Shooting Prevention Act of 2023 draft shows sponsorship from Democratic State Representatives Andre Boesenecker, and Elisabeth Epps as well as Senator Rhonda Fields. Though the bill would make the acquisition of an “assault weapon” illegal, existing “assault weapons” would be allowed to be legally kept if proof of purchase is on hand by the owner or person in possession.
At this time the bill has not been introduced to the General Assembly. RMGO has threatened to sue if this bill were to become law.
“We have already drafted a lawsuit based on the initial draft of the bill. Of course, we know what’s going to change as it goes through the legislative process, and we will adjust that and we will file within the first two weeks of this becoming law,” Rhodes said.
The text of this draft states that Colorado would “prohibit a person from possessing, manufacturing, importing, purchasing, selling, offering to sell, or transferring ownership of an assault weapon.” The bill draft defines an “assault weapon” as:
A semi-automatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and has one or a number of the following characteristics:
Rhodes is concerned however that the bill extends far beyond assault weapons. The draft bill mentions shotguns and pistols by name and used many of the caveats for characteristics outlined above for outlawing them.
“This ban is going after not just the weapons that we think of when we think of an assault weapon like AR-15 or AK-47 or classifications like that, this ban goes after many shotguns and we think a vast majority of pistols,” Rhodes said.
A key piece of the draft is that those who currently own the guns listed will not have to give them up as long as they can provide legal ownership. If proof of legal ownership is not available the person would have to hand over the firearm to a local police officer. The person in possession of the guns would then have 3-days to provide proof of purchase or legal transfer of possession or will face being charged with a class 2 misdemeanor. If one is used in the commission of a crime, it would be a class 6 felony, and the firearm will be dismembered and disposed of.
It has also been noted that proponents for the bill do not explain how disarming law-abiding citizens will keep themselves safe from criminals who do not obey the law.
In his State of the State address last Tuesday, Colorado Governor Jared Polis called on the legislature to strengthen the state’s red flag law, which was passed in 2019 and went into effect on January 1, 2020.
The red flag law also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders allows family members and law enforcement officers to petition a court to remove firearms from a person who poses an imminent threat to themselves or others. There are at least 37 Colorado counties including Kiowa County, Cheyenne County, and Prowers County which have declared by resolution to be Second Amendment Sanctuary counties in response to the 2019-gun law.
Gov. Jared Polis believes Colorado’s red flag law is a more effective tool than an assault weapons ban, which General Assembly Democrats appear to be pursuing.
“Right now, loved ones and local law enforcement have the ability to pursue an extreme risk protection order. But why not expand this to include additional petitioners, like district attorneys?” he said in the address.
When asked by reporters about the Mass Shooting Prevention Act of 2023 draft bill from three legislative Democrats seeking to ban the purchase of what the drafters describe as “assault weapons, “I haven’t seen anything like that,” Polis said. “We specifically, looking at the data, believe that extreme risk protection orders can work better.”
Colorado is not the only state that is pursuing more stringent gun laws. Democratic lawmakers across the country, some even using their power as trifectas — or control of the governor’s office and both legislative chambers — are steam rolling new bans on semi-automatic rifles, while also enacting red flag laws and background checks. Meanwhile, Republican legislators with strong majorities want their states to join the 25 others who already allow residents to carry firearms without a permit, what many proponents call “constitutional carry” laws.
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis said he will push for constitutional carry legislation that does away with permits, and in Nebraska, conservative lawmaker Tom Brewer is paving the way for legislation to end the $200 mandatory concealed carry permit and safety class.
“We’re having to pay for a right that’s in the Constitution,” Brewer said. “People just want a clean way to be able to carry and not have to worry about being cited for it.”
Follow along with the Colorado General Assembly by visiting https://leg.colorado.gov/. Where you can watch/listen to Senate and House discussion and hearings, find and look up bills that have been introduced, as well as look up your legislator so that you can contact the person who will be voting on these important topics.
If you feel strongly about expressing your opinion about the gun legislation that may or may not be pushed through over the course of the 120-day legislative session to end no later than May 8, 2023 it is encouraged to write a letter, send an email, or call your representatives to express your concerns. If you feel that your representatives do not listen to their constituents, it is your right to vote them out of office at their next election.
Keep yourself and those around you informed about the actions of the legislators that were voted into office, demand action from them, and hold them accountable at election time.