FILE - Students from Denver's East High School march to the Colorado state Capitol building in Denver, March 3, 2023. Students walked out of classes to push for legislative action after a fellow student was shot and killed near the school on Feb. 13. Colorado lawmakers have pushed forward a slew of aggressive gun control bills that are nearing the governor’s desk for signatures. If passed, the once purple state that only recently saw a Democratic takeover will be more closely aligned with the liberal strongholds of California and New York. (Andy Cross/The Denver Post via AP, File)

DENVER |  A high school student told Colorado state lawmakers he’d work to oust them if they didn’t support a sweeping ban on semiautomatic weapons. The bill’s sponsor wiped back tears as she implored her Democratic colleagues to support the ban. A representative for a gun rights group vowed that if the bill passed and is signed by the governor, he’d sue the state before the ink dries.

These were just a few highlights from a marathon hearing Wednesday that attracted hundreds of people hoping to speak for and against a bill that has Colorado’s progressive lawmakers beseeching their Democratic colleagues — who control the state’s Legislature and consequently the bill’s fate — for support.

State lawmakers have already cleared a package of narrower gun control measures this session. But the proposed ban on semiautomatic firearms faces much stiffer odds, illustrating that even Democratic-controlled statehouses don’t have free reign when it comes to overhauling laws rooted deep in American culture.

“I think we’ve discovered the edge and the limit of how progressive this state wants to be,” Rep. Mike Lynch, the Republican House minority leader, said in a press conference outside the hearing.

The bill, which would prohibit the sale and transfer of semiautomatic rifles, along with certain pistols and shotguns, comes months after a mass shooting at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs — the latest in the state’s long history of massacres.

In response to the shootings, Democrats pushed forward bills to strengthen red-flag laws, raise the firearm purchasing age to 21, open the gun industry up to legal liability and install a three-day waiting period after buying a gun. Those laws, expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, will more closely align Colorado with the liberal strongholds of California, New York and Washington state.

But unlike those states, the proposed semiautomatic firearm ban has not received the same urgency.

Kicking off the impassioned hearing, Rep. Elisabeth Epps, the bill’s sponsor, appealed to her fellow Democrats. “I’m scared of what it says about us, if, when there are 69 members of my party in the body, we don’t run this bill,” Epps said.

While Washington state’s Democratic-controlled Legislature cleared a semiautomatic rifle ban Wednesday, Colorado Democrats, who hold a 9-4 majority on the committee, have voiced concerns over the bill’s constitutionality and breadth.

In a potentially major concession to other members of her party, Epps said the bill may be significantly pared back to effectively ban bump stocks — a gun attachment that increases the rate of fire and which is already federally prohibited.

Grant Cramer, a freshman at a Denver high school, called out four Democratic committee members by name in his testimony, saying they had blood on their hands.

“All of Denver high schools are ready to march on the Capitol once more on April 29 to demand that you step down from power,” Cramer said, referring to previous marches to the building by students to demand gun restrictions. “We are ready to make sure that you lose your reelection in a landslide vote.”

He added: “Don’t think for a second that you will get away with this because you are part of the Democratic party.”

On the other side, Austin Hein, director of political operations for the National Association for Gun Rights, argued that none of the gun control bills would do “anything to address the root cause of the mental health, overly medicated children in fatherless homes and gun-free zones that are plaguing our state.”

Hein added that a semiautomatic ban “will leave law-abiding citizens defenseless to the alarming rise of violent crime caused by the progressive criminal justice reform.”

Deeply Democratic states such as California, New York and Massachusetts have restricted semiautomatic rifles. The proposal in Colorado, however, has unearthed divides among Democrats and fomented tension between the urban and rural parts of the state.

House Speaker Rep. Julie McCluskie and Majority Leader Rep. Monica Duran said they haven’t yet made up their minds on the legislation. McCluskie cited concerns from her more rural constituents. Polis has demurred when asked questions about the ban.

Colorado is a state where Democrats know well that going too far on gun laws can put them in political peril.

A decade ago, Colorado voters ousted two state lawmakers in first-ever recall elections that came in reaction to the Democrats’ support for tougher gun laws in the aftermath of the Aurora theater shooting.

Colorado has suffered some of the nation’s most notorious massacres, including 13 killed in 1999 at Columbine High School, 12 killed in 2012 in Aurora, 10 killed in 2021 at a Boulder supermarket and five killed last November at the Colorado Springs gay nightclub.

Lawmakers in Texas set aside a slate of proposed new gun restrictions without a vote after hours of emotional appeals from Uvalde families whose children were killed last year. The hearing didn’t end until the early morning hours Wednesday and may wind up as the only debate in the Legislature this year.

Colorado’s Republican lawmakers have put up a vigorous fight against the other gun measures, filibustering into the wee hours of the morning as debates spilled into long weekends. The attempt to stymie the bills finally ended when McCluskie invoked a rarely used rule — considered the nuclear option — to shut down debate and push the bills to a vote.


Bedayn is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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  1. The recall of two legislators is often quoted as a possible political consequence for advocating for gun safety legislation. What is usually not stated is that those two seats were returned to Democrat candidates in the next election.

  2. The manufacture of that nasty ugly GUN forced the shooter to take that nasty ASSAULT GUN’s to the grocery store to kill 10 people! Damn, these manufacturers have way to much power! Put them all in jail and make them apologize for enabling these innocent citizens to become killers!

    1. Maryland, Delaware and Hawaii have taken measures to hopefully make a difference as it relates to the sale of assault weapons.

    2. Yeah, because shootings went down once Antonin Scalia decided to rewrite the Constitution and create a right that never existed. That’s what happened, right? Nobody’s getting killed by these things in mass shootings, right?

    3. And your solution to over 45,000 gun deaths and twice as many maimings a year is? Or are you okay with this madness infecting America?

  3. When the government their citizens the stop being citizens and become subjects. Ukraine was disarmed of it’s nuclear weapons by Russia. Do you think the would be in the situation they are in now if they had nuclear capability? Russia would NOT have invaded and we would not be financing that war!

    1. Get your facts: “Thousands of nuclear arms had been left on Ukrainian soil by Moscow after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But in the years that followed, Ukraine made the decision to completely denuclearize. In exchange, the U.S., the U.K. and Russia would guarantee Ukraine’s security in a 1994 agreement known as the Budapest Memorandum.”

  4. Stupid waste of time by those who want to virtue signal. Violence is now an everyday part of life in USA. Look around and be scared. Right now only a fool would not have some way to defend themselves or their family, certainly not happy about it but the chances of millions of gun owners giving up their legal weapons or being put in a position where owning a gun is a crime,,,,well good luck…

    1. The problem is rage and paranoia as well as over 350,000,000 guns in this country. But you are correct. the chances of millions of gun owners giving up their weapons ,,,,well good luck… where this “or being put in a position where owning a gun is a crime” comes from, I don’t know.

  5. When are we gonna put on our big boy pants and realize that blaming an inanimate object for the choices made by a living, thinking person is just literally ignorant and embarassing at best. Has accountability for ones actions fallen so far to the wayside that in a desperate narcissistic grasp to save face we really blame an item that cannot do anymore than collect dust until operated by a person who made the choice to use such item in such a heinous way? The only laws that are gonna work are stricter laws for the use of these items in crimes. Eye for an Eye. You use a gun to kill you yourself die. You use one in the commission of any crime even without hurting someone spend 15 years in prison…day for day.
    Punishing the law abiding does nothing. Criminals pay no mind to laws. Its a waste of time and money and only causes further seperation between countrymen.
    Not to even mention that mass killings of citizens perpetrated throughout history most notably in the 1900’s were preceded by confiscations made easier by gun control laws.

    Has no one even put together the “coincidence” that anytime a major gun control law is brought up theres a mass shooting right before hand. Create the fear, then promise a little safety at the loss of just a little bit of your guaranteed rights.

    Exactly how tyranny becomes law.

    1. Of the more than 40,000 gun deaths and twice as many maimings last year, the majority of gun deaths were suicides. In most firearm deaths, the victim and the shooter knew each other.Few of the mass shooting murderers had criminal records. Ascribing our epidemic of gun violence to criminals or the mentally ill is just parroting conservative excuses for why nothing can be done, while protecting the gun industry and its profits – and political contributions.

      Other countries have criminals, mentally ill and depressed people yet we lead the world in firearm deaths. The one outstanding fact: 400,000,000 guns.

      Turn off Fox News and AM talk radio and start thinking for yourself.

    2. You are correct:Criminals pay no mind to laws. Show source cause I don’t think so: mass killings of citizens perpetrated throughout history most notably in the 1900’s were preceded by confiscations made easier by gun control laws.
      Well duh! anytime a major gun control law is brought up theres a mass shooting right before hand.
      I’m sick of hearing about “guaranteed rights”. Go join a “well regulated militia”!

  6. Representatives Daugherty, Sharbini, Snyder, and Marshall, can you spell PRIMARY? Coming your way.And shame on McCluskie and Duran for their spineless ‘leadership.’

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