Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Democrat from Centennial, has a long list of gun reforms he hopes to see become law.
He wants to require gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms and keep their guns locked in a safe when not in use. He also wants to see a three-day waiting period after a background check begins before a firearm can be taken home. It should be a felony crime, rather than a misdemeanor, to try to purchase a firearm with a felony record, he said. And the age to purchase a rifle in Colorado, he said, should be 21 years old, up from the current age of 18 years old.
Sullivan’s son Alex was killed in 2012 during a mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater that left 12 people dead and 70 injured. Earlier this year, he helped pass a law allowing for the temporary confiscation of firearms from a person deemed by a judge to be suicidal or at risk to others. In response to his support for that bill and others, the state GOP launched a recall effort against the first-year lawmaker, but dropped it in June.
Now, Sullivan is lobbying his colleagues in the House and Senate to get more gun measures drafted, debated and voted on in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 8.
So far, just two reforms — the safe-storage and lost and stolen reporting requirements — have gained traction with Democratic leadership in the House. But even those reforms face an uncertain fate in the Senate, where supporters have been so far mum on gun bills and where the 2020 election stakes loom larger. Democrats control the Senate 19-16 and the House 41-24.
“The Senate is always concerned,” Sullivan said. But, he added, “We are getting to the point where this is a topic that we have to talk about.”
To help build a case, Sullivan and other gun reform advocates point to recent events, including the suicide of Sol Pais, a Florida high school student. The 18-year-old was allegedly “obsessed” with the mass shooting at Columbine High School. She traveled to the state on the 20th anniversary of the April 1999 deadly shooting, purchased a shotgun, and inspired a manhunt and emergency that shut down schools for the day. Pais was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted shotgun wound at the base of Mount Evans, more than 2,000 miles from home. She wouldn’t have been able to purchase a shotgun, Sullivan said, if the age limit were 21. Had there been a waiting period for the purchase, he adds, that, too, might have made a difference.
Meanwhile, Colorado gun deaths have been on the rise. In 2018, the gun-death rate per 100,000 people was 15.5, the highest it’s been since 1986, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Last year, 885 people died by firearm. Suicides make up the largest share of gun deaths, according to the state.
Majority Leader Alex Garnett, a Democrat from Denver, says he’s on board with Sullivan’s call for new laws requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms and gun storage. These policies, he said, should be non-controversial.
“It’s just looking at ways to promote responsible gun ownership,” Garnett said.
Both policies, he said, would be lighter lifts than the temporary confiscation of guns under the new extreme risk protection order (ERPO) legislation, which failed in 2018 but passed earlier this year. The policy was the subject of a recent 60 Minutes documentary. While one sheriff spearheaded the law, others say they won’t enforce it.
The ERPO bill was met with heated debated, an attempted filibuster, and, upon passage and signing by Gov. Jared Polis, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a conservative pro-gun group, sued Polis arguing that House Democrats did not follow proper procedure when Republicans sought to delay a vote.
Garnett was optimistic about finding a Senate sponsor for the safe storage and lost and stolen reporting policies. But he did not name any senators. Nor did Sullivan. The Colorado Independent sought comment from half a dozen Democratic senators. Their comments will be added if provided.
“I think it’s about openly communicating and understanding that all of us in that building come from different districts and different communities,” Garnett said.
“There is no doubt,” he said. “You want to be thoughtful in how you approach the issue.”
In 2013, the Colorado House passed limits on high-capacity magazines and tightened laws for background checks. The bills then passed the Senate. That year, Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, was ousted through a recall election. So, too, was Sen. Angela Giron, a Pueblo Democrat. Sen. Evie Hudak, a Westminster Democrat, stepped down to enable a Democrat to replace her. This past session, Senate President Leroy Garcia voted against the ERPO gun law and still faced a recall.
“I do think ultimately it will backfire on them,” said House Minority Leader Patrick Neville when asked about possible gun reforms this year. “There would be an entire effort to make people aware of what’s happening at the Capitol.”
Neville wants to see K-12 school teachers carry guns and to repeal the 2013 high-capacity magazine limit.
Sullivan said he’s ready for that fight. In addition to working his re-election, he said he would help colleagues with their re-elections by talking to voters, showing up at town halls and knocking on doors.
This story was updated on Nov. 25 to include data on gun-related deaths in Colorado.