Gun reform talks under way at the state Capitol

Passage of gun bills in an election year is a tough sell, especially in the Senate. That's not stopping Rep. Tom Sullivan.

About 400 people with the group Moms Demand Action lobbied for gun control at the state Capitol on March 5, 2018. Democrats are considering more gun reforms in the 2020 session. (Photo by John Herrick)

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.” 

Rep. Tom Sullivan at a pro-Prop. CC event in Denver on Nov. 5, 2019. (Photo by John Herrick)

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.” 

House Minority Leader Patrick Neville at a press conference when Rocky Mountain Gun Owners announced a lawsuit to overturn Colorado's red flag law on May 2, 2019. (Photo by John Herrick)
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville at a press conference when Rocky Mountain Gun Owners announced a lawsuit to overturn Colorado’s red flag law on May 2, 2019. (Photo by John Herrick)

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. 

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  1. Really, why would I kkeep a gun in my safe, when thugs break into my house. Should I ask them to wait until I secure my weapom…………..I think not. I sleep with my pistol next to me, what kind of nonsense is sullivan dreaming anyway? Not too mention sullivan has a hard-on right now because he got he feel-good law passed much like the other senator on magazine bans because her son was a gang-banger or hanging out with the wrong people. A sympathy law if you will. And we all know what happened the last time a state senator got too anal , they got recalled and ousted. So keep that in mind. There is no way I am leeting myself be unprotected because fat – daddy sullivan wants to protect me.

  2. So its okay when you join the military at 17 (like I did) at the tail-end of Vietnam and become bullet-catchers but not okay to drink alcohol or even own a firearm (shotgun, rifle let alone a pistol, until you are 21 ??. You can be tried for crimes at 18, vote in a Presidenetial election, and otherwise be considered a adult, but when it benefits you, you are still a child, get real folks, it we can die in some shit-hole country, then we are adults and with that go the perks and privileges. This sullivan politican drank too much kool-aid and wants everyone to know he is a victim, and he’s not taking it no more. His son ewas at the wrong place and wrong time, it happens to all of us, in some situations.

  3. This persons only purpose is to push his anti gun socialist adjenda. Every day people are turned loose with a pockit sized weapon call a.cell phone and a car. More people are killed a year by texting and driving. There are more dearhes from drinking and driving than guns so why dont we oass a law that restricts driving till 21, or marrage till 21 or cell phone ownership till 21 or milltary service till 21. Further more if one is going to kill themselves a gun is not needed.

  4. It would be nice if these dumbasses would deal with the root problem rather than the instrument used. Guns are one of hundreds of instruments people use to kill, each other and themselves. The problem is the people not the instruments. We are sinner one and all, and as such we in fact hate each other and always put ourselves above everyone else. The problem is us not the instrument used. Punish the perpetrators, not the law abiding citizens that seek to defend themselves against the monsters that use whatever instrument to kill the object of his hatred. You take our firearms away then we are no longer safe from the criminally minded nor from the government that is becoming increasingly tyrannical.

  5. During the original constitutional convention, many representatives were opposed to the new country having a standing army.
    George Washington sarcastically offered a comment that perhaps we could pass a law that any country wanting to invade must wait until we could raise an army and train the soldiers.
    Think of that when you think about the three day waiting period.

  6. Sorry. What he is doing is not common sense. It is the opposite of common sense. Gun control is what is causing these problems. Gun safe zones are not safe. Rather they are shooting galleries for criminals.

  7. Robert Loyd: “I sleep with my pistol next to me” and the thug who just broke into your house, who’s got the drop on you, is packing too. You lose.

    If more guns is all that it takes, the US would be the safest country in the world. Where did that ‘reasoning’ go wrong?

  8. not necessarily. I trained to shoot in the dark (and daytime) with all types of weapons, so night time does not bother me. and I know my house a lot better in the dark too.

  9. 1. “In 2013, the Colorado House passed limits on high-capacity magazines and tightened laws for background checks.”
    2. “Meanwhile, Colorado gun deaths have been on the rise.”

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