The 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which left 12 people dead and 70 others injured, prompted Colorado Democrats to immediately begin pursuing tighter regulations on firearms. Since the attack 10 years …
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The 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which left 12 people dead and 70 others injured, prompted Colorado Democrats to immediately begin pursuing tighter regulations on firearms.
Since the attack 10 years ago Wednesday, no fewer than 10 statewide changes to gun policy have been adopted, making Colorado one of the nation’s most progressive states when it comes to firearm regulations.
Here’s a detailed look at how Colorado’s gun policies have changed over the past 10 years:
A 15-round gun magazine limit
Three big gun regulation changes were made during Colorado’s 2013 legislative session, the first lawmaking term after the Aurora theater shooting.
The most controversial of the three was a bill imposing a 15-round limit on gun magazines.
The gunman in the theater shooting used a semi-automatic, AR-15-style rifle with a 100-round drum attached. The gun jammed, preventing him from inflicting more carnage, but the circumstances of the shooting led state lawmakers to take a hard look at magazines and whether they should be regulated.
Opponents of the law have filed lawsuits trying to overturn it, arguing that the policy is unconstitutional, but have been unsuccessful.
Several states have passed similar magazine limitations since.
A 9News investigation in 2019 found that some Colorado gun stores were still selling magazines with a capacity greater than 15 rounds despite the 2013 law.
Universal background checks
The other major regulation adopted during the 2013 legislative session was a bill requiring universal background checks for gun purchases and transfers in Colorado.
There are some exceptions, including when the gun is being transferred as a gift or loan between family members, or the firearm is being transferred temporarily for use at a shooting range or for hunting.
Violators of the background check requirement could be charged with a Class 1 misdemeanor and be barred from possessing a gun for two years.
A third bill passed in 2013 requires the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to recoup the costs of completing a background check.
Red flag law
The passage of the 2013 gun laws resulted in political backlash for Colorado Democrats.
Two Democratic state senators, including the Senate president, were recalled as a result and a third resigned to avoid being recalled. Democrats then lost their majority in the Senate in the 2014 elections and didn’t win it back until the 2018 elections.
During the period when Republicans controlled the state Senate, consequential gun legislation in Colorado did not pass.
When Democrats regained control of the legislature in 2019, they used their new majority to pass a so-called red flag gun bill, which lets judges order the temporary seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves or others. People subject to an extreme-risk protection order are also temporarily barred from purchasing guns.
Here’s how the law works: Law enforcement or someone close to a gun owner petitions a judge to have that person’s firearms temporarily seized through the civil court system. If the order is granted, the judge must rule within 14 days whether to extend the seizure period and prevent the person from purchasing more guns for up to 364 days.
The policy has been used dozens of times in Colorado to temporarily seize guns from people.
Republicans again initiated recalls after the 2019 legislative session, in large part because of the red flag law, but all of those efforts were unsuccessful, empowering Democrats to keep pushing on gun regulations.
No new gun regulations were passed in 2020 by the Colorado legislature, which had its hands full trying to respond to COVID-19.
In 2021, however, Democrats began pursuing new gun control measures with an eye toward preventing suicides and accidental gun deaths.
One of those was a bill that passed and was signed into law requiring Coloradans who own guns to store their weapons in a gun safe or with a trigger or cable lock when the owner knows or should reasonably know that a “juvenile or a resident who is ineligible to possess a firearm can gain access to the firearm.”
The guns don’t have to be stored in a safe or with a trigger or cable lock if the owner is carrying the weapon or if they place it in a “secure container which a reasonable person would believe to be secure.” Antique firearms are also exempt from the law.
Violators of the law could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor offense. People charged with the crime can argue that the gun wasn’t safely stored because a juvenile needed to gain access to the weapon for self-defense or to defend livestock.
The law also requires licensed gun dealers to provide a trigger or cable lock with each firearm they sell or transfer, except when it comes to the sale or transfer of antique firearms. They also must post a conspicuous safe-storage notice developed by the state’s health department in their shop.
To meet the notice requirement, gun shops may also post a sign saying: “UNLAWFUL STORAGE OF A FIREARM MAY RESULT IN IMPRISONMENT OR FINE.”
A licensed gun dealer who does not provide a locking device or post the required notice could be charged with an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Lost and stolen firearms
Also in 2021 lawmakers passed Senate Bill 78, which requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to law enforcement within five days of realizing the weapon is missing.
Failing to report a lost or stolen firearm is a civil offense punishable by a $25 fine. A second or subsequent infraction is an unclassified misdemeanor punishable by a maximum fine of $500.
Ensuring domestic abusers turn over their guns
A third measure passed in 2021 — House Bill 1255 — requires people who are subject to a restraining order because of domestic abuse to submit to a judge, within seven business days, an affidavit including a list of the type and number of firearms they own, as well as the location of those weapons.
The legislation is aimed at ensuring those charged with or convicted of domestic abuse relinquish their firearms as required.
Eliminating the local preemption
The March 2021 massacre of 10 people at a King Soopers in Boulder prompted Democrats in the legislature to pursue additional gun control measures in the middle of the 2021 lawmaking term.
Arguably the most impactful piece of legislation was Senate Bill 256, which will allow local governments, public higher education institutions and special districts to enact gun policies that are stronger than what’s written in state law.
The bill rolled back a 2003 preemption measure in Colorado. The 2003 preemption policy led a judge to toss out Boulder’s municipal assault-weapons ban days before the King Soopers shooting.
Closing the Charleston loophole, temporarily preventing people convicted of certain misdemeanors from purchasing guns
The second most consequential measure passed after the King Soopers shooting was House Bill 1298, which temporarily prohibits people convicted of certain misdemeanors from purchasing a gun. It also closes the so-called Charleston loophole by requiring gun dealers to complete a background check on a gun buyer before transferring a weapon.
While Colorado has universal background checks, federal law allows guns to be transferred to buyers after three business days if the background check hasn’t been completed. The gap in law is called the Charleston loophole because the gunman who killed nine people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015 was able to purchase a firearm despite being prohibited to do so because his background check wasn’t completed within three days.
Meanwhile, people convicted of the following misdemeanors are prohibited from purchasing weapons within five years of their conviction:
• third-degree assault
• a bias-motivated crime
• child abuse
• a crime against an at-risk person
• cruelty to animals
• possession of an illegal weapon
• sexual assault
• unlawful sexual contact
• unlawfully providing a firearm other than a handgun to a juvenile
• violation of a protection order
The misdemeanor provision was driven by the fact that the Boulder shooter had been convicted of third-degree assault a few years before the shooting.
Openly carrying guns at polling places is prohibited
In 2022, Colorado lawmakers passed House Bill 1086, which makes it illegal to openly carry a gun within a polling location or within 100 feet of a ballot drop box while voting is happening.
The measure also makes it illegal to openly carry a firearm inside or within 100 feet of a central counting facility during any election administration activity.
What other states have that Colorado doesn’t
Despite all of the gun regulation changes in Colorado over the past decade, there are a number of policies that have been adopted in other states that haven’t been repeated in Colorado.
“Colorado has taken tremendous strides towards gun safety in recent years,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which is named for former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, the Arizona Democrat wounded in a gun attack. “But there is much more to be done.”
Colorado has not enacted a state ban on assault or assault-style weapons, as seven other states — including California and New York — and Washington, D.C., have.
Some states also have waiting periods between when someone purchases a firearm and when they can access it.
Finally, some states, including Florida, have raised the age at which someone can purchase a gun to 21. In Colorado, you must be 21 to purchase a handgun, but you can purchase a rifle or shotgun by 18.
There have been discussions at the Colorado Capitol in recent years about enacting an assault-style weapons ban, implementing a gun-purchase waiting period and raising the age at which people can purchase a firearm.
While those policies haven’t been adopted on the state level, some municipalities in Boulder County have recently passed them in light of the 2003 preemption law being overturned. And the Denver City Council earlier his year banned the concealed carrying of guns in all city buildings and parks.
This story is from The Colorado Sun, a journalist-owned news outlet based in Denver and covering the state. For more, and to support The Colorado Sun, visit coloradosun.com. The Colorado Sun is a partner in the Colorado News Conservancy, owner of Colorado Community Media.
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