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A reader named Lois recently asked, “What kinds of gun reform or control would Gov. Polis support?”
The question is timely — Thursday, the U.S. House voted to strengthen background checks for gun buyers, the most significant gun legislation to get through the chamber in 20 years.
Colorado already has fairly strict laws on background checks, but what about other measures? We put Lois’s question to the governor, and here’s what we can report back: His office doesn’t really want to talk about it.
Polis supports the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill — more commonly known as ERPO or “red flag” legislation — which would allow law enforcement agencies in Colorado to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed by a judge to be a high danger to themselves or others. This bill was recently introduced by Democrats in the state House and is expected to advance soon to the Senate. Democrats control both chambers.
But other than ERPO, what gun reforms might Polis back? We asked his spokeswoman, Laurie Cipriano:
“The governor is aware of ERPO, but has not seen any gun violence prevention measures be introduced,” she said, in a prepared statement. “He will review any proposals if and when they arise in the legislature.”
Reviewing proposed legislation is part of any governor’s job, of course. So, Lois and anyone else interested in the topic, what you can take away, Polis-wise, is that any leadership on gun legislation aside from ERPO isn’t coming from the governor for now.
That does not necessarily mean, however, that legislative efforts on this front are going to end with ERPO.
So, what other kinds of gun reform can Coloradans reasonably expect to come up at the Capitol in the next two years?
Let’s begin by acknowledging that Republicans have a wish list, but it’s going nowhere for now because of Democratic control. Already, several GOP gun bills have died this year, including one that sought to let concealed-carry permit holders take firearms on school grounds and another that would remove the state’s limits on magazine capacity.
For the Democrats, newcomer Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial, a co-sponsor of ERPO, has become the de facto spokesman on gun legislation. Sullivan’s son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting of 2012. Since his first day at the Capitol, Sullivan, a retired Postal Service worker, has been focused on passing ERPO, something he promised voters throughout his campaign.
It looks like he’ll make good on that promise. Depending on how quickly it moves through the legislative process, the bill could become law by mid-March.
House leadership, Sullivan said, made clear “at the very, very beginning of this session that (ERPO) was No. 1. It was certainly my No. 1.”
But is there a No. 2? Or 3? We reached out to the House and Senate Democrats, and neither side was keen to talk about it. None of the legislators we contacted in House or Senate leadership got back to us.
Instead, spokesmen for both chambers sent us statements that said as little as the governor’s office did.
“The Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation is currently in the House, but we look forward to discussing it and other legislation that protects the health and safety of Coloradans, when it comes over to the Senate,” said Keith Barnish, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.
Rep. Alec Garnett, House majority leader, sent us a statement through a spokesman in his chamber: “Gun violence prevention and keeping communities safe remain a top priority for House Democrats and that’s why we are focused on passing the life-saving Extreme Risk Protection Order bill.”
Democrats have been careful with how they talk about red-flag legislation and Republicans have vowed to use it “against them” in swing districts.
Sullivan, however, said he’s not slowing down. He reeled off several possible bills he said he’d support this session or next. They include:
- Lost and stolen firearms: Eleven states require someone who has lost a firearm or had a firearm stolen to report it to law enforcement. Colorado’s not one of them and Sullivan said he hopes to change that.
- Smash-and-grabs: A smash-and-grab burglary involves a person or group breaking into a retail shop with the intention of stealing. It happens from time to time at pawn shops and gun stores. It happened last month in Castle Rock and in December in Lakewood. “I believe that I’ve put everyone on notice that we need to do something about these smash-and-grabs, where people are stealing cars and smashing windows, taking cement mixers” — the vehicle of choice in the Lakewood incident — “and driving them through the fronts of pawn shops and gun stores, and just walking out with all these firearms.” A bill addressing this could require stores to safely store their firearms after business hours, perhaps in safes or behind metal bars, Sullivan said.
- Safe storage: Sullivan said he’d like to see a bill that requires gun owners to store and secure their weapons when they’re not home, so that their children can’t accidentally or intentionally get a hold of them. He called it common-sense, saying it’s “inconceivable to me that we even need to legislate this stuff.”
Sullivan said he’s still figuring things out at the Capitol and isn’t sure whether these proposals have any chance this session or would have to wait until next year. We asked him if he feels any urgency to advance some of this potential legislation once ERPO’s out of the way.
“It’s not any more urgent than it was 343 Fridays ago when my son was murdered,” Sullivan told us. “But now we actually have to have people who will stand up and have the courage to do it.”