Colorado becomes regional testing ground, national leader gun legislation


Colorado lawmakers’ latest suite of gun reform bills bolster the state’s position at the vanguard of the national firearm debate, advocates and critics say, while marking it as a proving ground for how step-by-step reforms can coexist within the West’s distinct regional identity.

As Colorado has turned deeper shades of blue over the past five years, it’s simultaneously become a regional and national leader in reforming its gun laws, lawmakers and activists said. The grip that Democrats have on state government has signaled to national gun reform groups, like Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, that they can pass legislation here.

In a libertarian, otherwise conservative region, Colorado’s changing political culture and success in advancing gun reform is either proof of concept for like-minded legislators or a warning to wary neighbors.

Amid growing Capitol protests by students affected directly by gun violence, the Colorado House and Senate are poised to pass bills to raise the age limit to purchase firearms; institute a waiting period; make it easier to sue gun manufacturers; and expand the state’s red-flag law.

A more sweeping (and controversial, even among some Democrats) bill — to ban the sale or transfer of assault weapons — has been introduced but, a month later, is still awaiting its first committee hearing.

The bills aren’t passing in a vacuum. Last year, Rhode Island and Delaware passed age-limit laws, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Delaware passed an assault weapons ban, too. While Colorado lawmakers are contemplating legislation addressing “ghost guns,” four states last year passed laws regulating them.

In all, roughly 1,400 bills that mentioned the word gun or firearm were introduced in American legislatures last year, according to the NCSL.

“Colorado is in a position to really be an example, at least for this half of the country, the middle part of the country, of where some of our boundaries can be and thinking about who we are in our past,” said Denver Democratic Rep. Jennifer Bacon, who also serves as the assistant majority leader in the House. “In a lot of ways, we have pulled from more densely urban states, and in a lot of ways, we’re still having conversations as if we’re ranchers. Both conversations are happening now in a way that may not be had in Massachusetts or California.”

Colorado, she said, is still a Western state, with a distinct rural identity alongside growing urban centers, flush with (often more progressive) out-of-state transplants. But Democratic legislators here are showing that those two identities can exist, she said, while passing gun reform.

Broadly, Republicans agree, said Delta Republican Rep. Matt Soper: Colorado is the “regional hegemon,” and he, like Bacon, hopes other states take a lesson from it.

“So goes Colorado, so goes the rest of the Rocky Mountain states eventually,” said Soper, who in March apologized to fellow lawmakers for threatening a new civil war over gun control. “Wyoming and New Mexico and Utah, Nebraska — although they’re not really Rocky Mountain — they ought to be looking to Colorado because if you’re concerned about what we’re doing, you ought to take preventative steps to make it more difficult for that to happen.

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