The first of four bills offered by Democrats — which they argue would reduce gun violence — cleared its first House committee Monday on a near party-line vote.
House Bill 1219 seeks to impose a three-day waiting period for firearms purchases.
Supporters say the bill would allow for a time for someone thinking of suicide to reconsider — or for friends and family members to intervene, arguing a day without a gun is another day a life is saved. Critics argue that the proposal, which they call arbitrary, would do nothing to prevent suicide, while burdening individuals who legitimate need the weapon for protection.
Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood, told the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee during a Monday hearing that the three days would provide a “cooling-off” period for those who may be planning to buy a firearm with the intent to commit suicide.
It’s personal for co-sponsor Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, whose son tried to buy a gun five years ago to do just that. Amabile and her husband were able to persuade the gun dealer not to sell him the gun, knowing he sought it to commit suicide.
“Had my son gotten that gun on the day, I am pretty certain he would be dead now,” Amabile said.
She said she talked to him yesterday about it, and he agreed that he wouldn’t have made it this far.
The legislation, Amabile said, aims to help cut down on gun suicides and gun homicides “so that more people will get to still be alive three days later, four days later, five years later.”
Amabile later shared her son tried suicide twice before: the first by taking an overdose of medication, the second by hanging from a light fixture that broke. He survived those first two tries, she said.
But a gun doesn’t fail, she explained.
Republicans noted that buying a firearm already comes with a delay due to background checks required in state law.
While the state has an instant background check process, and could result in a few hours’ wait rather than a couple of days, HB 1219 would require a minimum three-day wait, so if a background check came back in two days, for example, there would still be at least one more day of waiting, according to Froelich.
Several witnesses recounted the heartbreak they suffered from the death of a loved one, some from suicide, some from homicide, all from guns.
Kaycie Artus said her daughter, Lindsay, died an hour after buying a gun. She was a language arts teacher in Douglas County who won teaching awards but also battled with depression and anxiety. Lindsay’s children would still have their mom if there had been a waiting period, added her friend, Jenny Gunther.
Kathy Hagan of Erie talked about the death of a friend’s father, who also struggled with mental health issues. He stopped taking his medication and bought a gun. Confronted by his daughter, he locked himself in the bathroom and shot himself.
“It was a cry for help,” Hagan said.
A waiting period could have saved his life, she said.
Dr. Maya Haasz, a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital representing the Colorado Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, pleaded with lawmakers to support the bill: “Young people who attempt suicide by firearm do not have the chance to change their minds.”
She also pointed out that nine out of 10 children who use a firearm in their suicide attempt will die even though guns are used in only one of 20 suicide attempts.
Peter Gurfein, representing Colorado Gun Owners for Safety and Giffords, who said he has been shooting recreationally and hunting for more than 50 years and he has purchased numerous firearms over the years, insisted that the background check process is not a burden, even when he was in California and under that state’s 10-day waiting period.
Waiting periods do not violate his Second Amendment rights and does not prevent anyone from owning and possessing a firearm, Gurfein said.
“They only establish an important pause to ensure that impulse purchases don’t result in a preventable tragedy,” he said.
Several cited the case of a woman from Florida who was infatuated with the Columbine massacre and flew to Colorado in April 2019. Comments she made in an online journal and to friends about her pilgrimage to Colorado prompted a lockdown at Denver area schools. While law enforcement searched for her, she bought a pump-action shotgun after passing an instant background check, and hours later killed herself.
Witnesses on both sides of the debate went back and forth over whether a waiting period will reduce the number of suicides.
Eric Stone, a Teller County commissioner who is a certified firearms instructor with the National Rifle Association, said statistics pointed out by those in favor of the bill don’t show any correlation between the amount of waiting time and the effect that it would have on suicide rates.
The 10-day waiting period in California’s law, for example, showed that it did not reduce the suicide rate; the more likely predictor was the mere presence of the firearm itself within the first hundred days of ownership, he said.
Stone also pointed out that children can’t buy firearms, so the bill would not apply to them. He asked the committee to focus on the need for mental health resources rather than imposing a waiting period.
The bill is “another empty promise by this legislature to do something about reducing gun violence and suicide,” said Mario Acevedo.
He noted the legislation over the past decade and claimed it has done nothing to reduce gun violence. First, he said, the General Assembly enacted universal background checks and limits on high-capacity ammunition magazines — but gun violence got worse. Then the legislature enacted the extreme risk protection order to stop mass shootings and prevent gun violence, he said.
What happened? he rhetorically asked.
“We had more mass shootings and gun violence got worse,” he said.
That was followed by legislation on safe storage and a state office to prevent gun violence, and gun violence got worse, he added.
“You’ve lied for 10 years that something is gonna happen,” he said, which drew a rebuke from the committee chair to be respectful.
Waiting periods are not the “secret sauce,” Acevedo said, adding criminals don’t wait three days and will go around the proposed law.
Justin Green, who owns own SDS Guns in Colorado Springs, said customers drive for miles to buy guns from his store.
“This bill does nothing to help those customers but provide a burden to them,” h said. “You are burdening us to a point where we can’t take it anymore.”
Waiting periods or arbitrary impositions will have no affect on crime or suicide, added Travis Couture-Loveland of the National Rifle Association. The bill, he said, will only burden law-abiding gun owners without changing how criminals obtain firearms. He added that waiting periods don’t change the background check process and there’s no evidence that waiting periods reduce suicides, homicides or mass shootings.
Daniel Fenlanson, representing the Colorado State Shooting Association, called the bill anti-women, pro-crime and anti-victim. People need the Second Amendment to be able to defend themselves, he said.
After four hours of testimony, Rep. Ryan Armagost, R-Berthoud, offered an amendment to exempt those who have taken firearms training and possess concealed carry weapons permits. Amabile urged a “no” vote, telling the committee the state’s concealed weapons permit is too easy to obtain and would not fit in with the bill’s intended purpose.
The bill passed on a 7-4 vote, with Rep. Said Sharbini, D-Thornton, voting with the committee’s three Republicans. The bill now heads to the full House for review.
On Wednesday, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee will hold a hearing on three bills: Senate Bill 170, which seeks to strengthen the state’s extreme risk protection order law; Senate Bill 168, which allows victims of gun violence to sue firearms manufacturers and dealers; and, Senate Bill 169, which raises the legal age for purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21.