A round of applause for the determined and brave state lawmakers and Gov. Jared Polis for creating model gun control laws in Colorado, prompting what could be real ways to reduce gun violence.
Despite failing to ban the sale and ownership of assault-style weapons, state lawmakers made huge strides in signing into law meaningful reforms that have the certain potential to save lives.
The package of laws, however, accomplish a bevy of needed changes as well as implementing critical modifications to existing state gun laws.
Essentially, the measure expands the state’s existing so-called “Red Flag” laws, allowing courts to remove guns from people who are proved to be a danger to themselves or others. The new laws also make it illegal to sell a gun to anyone under 21. Another measure imposes a three-day waiting period for purchasing a firearm. And probably the most important change makes it easier for people harmed by gun
violence to sue firearm makers.
All of the changes are strategic advances meant to keep guns from minors and people who are emotionally ill-equipped to handle firearms.
Changes to the state’s red-flag law will allow people other than just police or family members to approach a court in an effort to have guns removed from
unstable gun owners.
The law now allows teachers, mental health workers district attorneys, doctors and other health care providers to initiate a court request to remove guns from someone.
Just as important, the bill provides impetus and money for the state health
department to create a public education campaign to help increase use of the law.
These important changes create a workaround from obstinate county sheriffs and law enforcement officials who have publicly said they won’t use or enforce the red-flag law because they see it as infringement of Second Amendment rights.
It’s been a cruel and irresponsible tact that almost certainly has cost lives across the state. Now, teachers, or medical professionals can get around errant deputy sheriffs, ensuring courts have an opportunity to remove guns before tragedy strikes.
In addition, new laws raise the age of buying a firearm in Colorado to 21. Given the potential destruction firearms can inflict, it’s only prudent to ensure adults decide gun access to minors and young adults.
Lawmakers failed, however, to extend the logic of requiring a higher age for gun purchase, possession and use.
There is no practical reason for anyone under the age of 21 to fire, possess or carry a civilian firearm. Rather than look the other way when children use firearms, state lawmakers should systematically find ways to prevent children embracing dangerous gun culture at an early age.
Related to that, earlier in the legislative session, Democrats imploded their own bill focusing on banning the sale of assault weapons. Doomed from the beginning, banning the sale — not possession — would have allowed tens of thousands of current assault-weapon-style rifles and guns to stay with Colorado owners. Worse yet, Colorado residents would have been able to buy them in neighboring states.
Since Congress is incapable any more of addressing the problem of gun violence, it’s important states like Colorado step and engage with these important bans.
Colorado should emulate the successes in Australia and New Zealand, which actually banned and then destroyed such weapons, helping ensure those nations enjoy some of the lowest gun violence rates in the world.
But among these meaningful Colorado successes, the most important change came from insistence from state Sen. Tom Sullivan, a critical legislative voice for gun control. Sullivan’s son, Alex Sullivan, was killed during the 2012 Aurora
theater shooting. Ever since, Sen. Sullivan has insisted that the biggest way to reduce gun violence would come from putting pressure on the gun industry. By making it easier for family of gun violence victims to sue gun-makers and others, Colorado residents will become armed with the power of the purse to check the influence and recklessness of gunmakers, much in the same way the tobacco industry was stricken. Big tobacco ceased to be that after endless lawsuits checked its influence in state and federal legislatures and with the public.
While some of these changes won’t offer results immediately, measures like changes to the red flag law and prohibiting young adults from buying guns could save lives as soon as the new laws take effect. How long that will be is in question since local gun-rights activist organizations have already filed lawsuits in an effort to stymie the changes.
But Sullivan is right, the biggest influence will come in the next few years as
lawsuits against gunmakers build, and judgements against gunmakers, pull cash from the companies, and effectively make changes in how guns are sold and marketed.
Pushing these bills into law wasn’t without risk for lawmakers. Several years ago, state lawmakers supporting similar gun bills were removed from office by a leveraged minority of far-right voters. While it appears there won’t be a repeat of those gun-owner theatrics, the political risk for this kind of legislation was real, and hasn’t passed.
Colorado residents should welcome these iconic changes, and begin now to push for the ban of assault-style weapons across the state, next year.