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Colorado Governor Signs 4 Gun Control Bills Months After Massacre

Colorado’s governor signed four gun control bills on Friday, following the lead of other states in combating a nationwide increase in violent crime and mass shootings.

Before the ink dried on Gov. Jared Polis’ signature, gun rights groups sued against two measures: raising the age for any gun purchase from 18 to 21 and establishing a three-day waiting period between purchase and receipt. A gun court is already weighing cases over such restrictions in other states. The US Supreme Court recently issued a ruling that expanded Second Amendment rights.

The new law, which Democrats pushed through despite a late-night filibuster from Republicans, aims to stem rising suicides and youth violence, prevent mass shootings and open the way for victims of gun violence to sue the long-protected firearms industry. They were made a law just five months later Mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs.

“Coloradans deserve to be safe in our communities, in our schools, in our grocery stores, in our nightclubs,” Polis said as he signed the measure into his office. Activists wearing red shirts at the governor wrote “Moms Demand Action,” the parents of a Denver high school student who suffered a recent shooting and a woman killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.

On Friday, April 28, 2023, Gov. Jared Polis signed four gun control bills by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, parents of Aurora theater shooting victim Jessica Ghavi, in the governor's office at the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver, Colorado.

On Friday, April 28, 2023, Gov. Jared Polis signed four gun control bills by Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, parents of Aurora theater shooting victim Jessica Ghavi, in the governor’s office at the Colorado State Capitol Building in Denver, Colorado.

Hyung Chang/The Denver Post

Supportive lawmakers and citizens alike had tears in their eyes and roared applause as Polis signed each bill. Colorado has a history of mass shootings, infamous for the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.

Republicans have heralded the bills as severe restrictions on Second Amendment rights that would hinder the ability of Colorado residents to defend themselves amid rising statewide crime rates. Gun rights advocates have vowed to roll back the measures.

“It’s just bigoted politicians doing what bigoted politicians are doing: discriminating against an age,” said Taylor Rhodes, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, referring to the new age limit for gun purchases. Rhodes said he has confidence in the lawsuit his group has filed.

A third measure passed by the Legislature would strengthen state red flag laws, and a fourth would roll back some legal protections for the firearms industry, exposing them to lawsuits from victims of gun violence.

The new red flag law, also called an extreme risk protection order, gives people working closely with youth and adults — doctors, mental health professionals and teachers — the power to petition a judge to temporarily remove someone’s firearm. Previously, petitioning power was mainly limited to law enforcement and family members. The goal is to act early before someone attempts suicide or attacks another.

At the signing ceremony, Senate President Steve Feinberg, a Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors, said Republicans and other gun control opponents often respond to mass shootings by saying it’s too early to talk about restricting firearms.

“It’s not too early. It’s too late for many lost souls,” Feinberg said. “We needed to do more to prevent what happened.”

Republicans argued that the law would discourage people — especially military veterans — from talking candidly with medical doctors and mental health professionals for fear of having their weapons temporarily confiscated.

The law — an effort to reduce impulsive violence and suicide attempts — brings Colorado in line with nine other states, including California, Florida and Hawaii, for a three-day delay between purchasing and receiving a firearm.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Colorado has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the nation, with nearly 1,400 in 2021. A RAND Corporation analysis of four studies found that waiting periods were associated with fewer suicides by gun.

Opponents have raised concerns that those who need to defend themselves — such as victims of domestic violence — may not be able to get a gun in time to do so.

In raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, Colorado joins California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Rhode Island. Supporters point to now-often-cited data from the CDC showing that gun violence has overtaken vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in recent years.

At the event, Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser compared the new law to the vehicle safety campaign that spawned groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a precursor to Mothers’ Demand Action.

In their talk about rolling back legal protections for gun manufacturers, lawmakers often look to Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghavi, was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Guardians tried unsuccessfully to sue the companies that sold the shooters ammunition and tear gas. Ultimately, the couple ended up owing more than $200,000 in defense attorney fees and had to file for bankruptcy.

California, Delaware, New Jersey and New York have passed similar laws in the past three years. Opponents of the bill argued that it would only saddle the firearms industry with bogus lawsuits.

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