Colorado poised to pass age limits, waiting periods for guns

Colorado Democrats’ full slate gun law reform is all but cleared to land on Gov. Jared Polis’ desk after two more bills passed key legislative hurdles Monday.

The two bills would limit all firearm purchases to 21 or older and institute a three-day waiting period on sales of firearms. The age limit passed its formal vote in the House of Representatives, while the waiting period passed on a preliminary voice vote after a nearly nine-hour debate in the chamber. It still has the formal vote to come, though Democratic majorities make it an all but foregone conclusion.

The proposals join bills that would expand the state’s red-flag law and make it easier to sue gun manufacturers that passed the House this past weekend. To get there, Democrats invoked a little-used rule to limit debate after a multiday filibuster by Republicans against policies they see as contrary to the Second Amendment. The bills have all passed, or will soon pass, both legislative chambers. They still need to be reconciled, though that will likely be a formality, lawmakers said.

The bill to increase the age limit on purchasing firearms, for example, was amended by the House to remove provisions that would have prohibited even the possession of firearms by people younger than 21. There is already an age limit on buying handguns. This proposal adds shotguns and rifles.

Democrats have a supermajority in the House and are one seat shy of it in the Senate. The package of gun bills was outlined prior to the session as part of the Democrats’ top priorities.

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“We committed, when we were elected, to listen to our constituents,” House Majority Leader Monica Duran said shortly after the House’s vote on Monday. She specifically noted Colorado’s students, and not just when they filled the Capitol last week to call for gun reform following another school shooting. “To listen to their feeling of fear and feeling of being abandoned.”

Senate President Steve Fenberg said there was a sense of inevitability to the bills passing, in some shape or another, because of the makeup of the chambers. He noted that some amendments from the minority party made it into the bills.

“We set out to pass meaningful reforms that we think will have a direct impact on saving lives and creating safer communities,” Fenberg, a Democrat from Boulder, said. “I think these four bills represent that. There’s obviously more conversations that need to happen this year and in future legislative sessions, but I think it’s a huge accomplishment.”

State Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican from Parker, noted the amendments as proof the debate was worth it. In the Senate, the chamber unanimously amended the bill to create waiting periods that more specifically defined family that is exempt from the waiting period in certain cases.

“I would still consider many, if not all of (the bills), half-baked and would hope that the bill sponsors continue to make the necessary changes to where Colorado residents don’t have their rights infringed upon,” Smallwood said.

Prior to the session, Republican state Rep. Richard Holtorf, of Akron, had pledged to filibuster Democrats into exhaustion. He, like Duran, invoked his constituents and noted how sweeping the changes could be. Though Duran framed the bills as a positive step toward reducing gun violence, Holtorf warned “when you do too much, you don’t do a good job at what you’re trying to do.”

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“We have tried to serve our constituents to the best of our ability within the time allotted and the rules that were invoked,” Holtorf said, adding that he wasn’t happy it was invoked, even if it was the majority’s prerogative.

Republicans had printed stickers protesting the invocation of rule 14, which limited debate. State Rep. Scott Bottoms, a Colorado Springs Republican, called it “fascism” and likened it to a biblical stoning. It led to a rebuke from Speaker Julie McCluskie on Monday, who apologized for not gaveling down his remarks, though the chamber did not censure him.

“We do not call members fascist,” McCluskie said as Democrats and Republicans alike stood. “We do not comment on what is in one another’s souls. We do not use religion to condemn one another. And we do not call others ungodly.”

The rule is not a weapon, she said, nor a threat to democracy. It is a “legitimate tool in the rules designed to protect the process and the institution,” she said.

Bottoms, who asked about gaveling McCluskie’s comments when she left the podium, argued he was speaking “truth and it gets labeled as hate.”

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“That’s very bigoted and I don’t like that,” Bottoms said. “What I said is not hate, and I don’t agree with people being able to label me that way. That is actually hate.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Gov. Jared Polis said he supports the recently passed, or soon-to-pass, bills.

“The governor is committed to making Colorado one of the top 10 safest states,” spokesperson Conor Cahill said. “This session, the governor called for the expansion of the landmark Extreme Risk Protection Order law, a law he signed in 2019, and for more legal tools to go after ghost guns. Additionally, he is supportive of waiting periods to purchase guns, raising the age for purchases to 21, and repealing state law that affords the gun industry liability protections.”

While the four primary bills have cleared their biggest hurdles, the debate over firearm regulations isn’t over in the Capitol. Lawmakers still need to hear an in-the-works proposal about unregistered firearms, or so-called ghost guns. On Wednesday, a committee of lawmakers is also going to debate a proposal to define and ban so-called assault weapons.

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