Sullivan: I didn’t defeat the assault weapons ban, but there are better ways to prevent gun violence

These last final weeks of this year’s legislative session have been incredibly demanding. The last-minute rush to pass bills and finish our work means many long days and late nights. Every legislator has been feeling the strain.

But for myself and my daughter — who also serves as my legislative aide — the last few weeks have been particularly taxing as we’ve also contended with making our way through more than 20,000 emails I’ve gotten from both sides of the gun issue. The emails were in response to one issue in particular: a bill to ban assault weapons, House Bill 1292, which came before the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee.

I serve on the Committee and we didn’t advance the legislation.

Now that we are at the end of the session, you’ve probably come to your own conclusions on how this year went, and especially how Democrats’ bills aimed at preventing gun violence progressed.

One thing I want to make very clear is that my stance on assault weapons, like many gun violence prevention advocates, is firm. I believe that no one should be able to own or be able to buy an assault weapon. Assault weapons are military-style guns that are built to do the most damage possible. They are designed to kill or maim the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time.

I have seen firsthand the brutality that assault weapons can have on the human body from my son’s crime scene photos. My family has felt the impact of these weapons of war every minute of every day since that horrible night in July 2012.

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However, how we effectively legislate around assault weapons isn’t cut-and-dry, and there are many of us, even in the gun violence prevention community, who have different opinions. As a dad turned elected official, I truly believe that passing good legislation is important, but just as important is to ensure the legislation we enact can be enforceable, especially when it comes to preventing gun violence. This is why I believe that creating an assault weapons ban can be the most impactful when it is imposed at the federal level, instead of the state level.

Today in Colorado, signing an assault weapons ban into law at the state level could make for a very challenging future for enforcement. We already see how gun manufacturers easily skirt assault weapons bans by making cosmetic changes to the weapons to fit within the bans set by other states while still being just as deadly.

The same is true with other gun violence prevention policies like background checks and bans on high-capacity magazines and ghost guns. The truth is, for an assault weapons ban to be successful, we need the support of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to oversee changes made by manufacturers and distributors to firearm parts, components, and accessories that aim to circumvent the law.

There are many out there who blame the failure of House Bill 1292 on me. But at the end of the day, one person, one lawmaker, one vote, isn’t the deciding factor. I was prepared to vote it out of committee to allow for a Senate floor debate.

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This bill needed ongoing collaboration between both the House and Senate to create a successful path to enactment. But House Bill 1292 didn’t have a Senate sponsor until late into the process. The reality is there was little collaboration between chambers, and leadership didn’t feel they had the votes to pass the policy.

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Many folks believed that passing this bill at this time in Colorado could have jeopardized further progress we’ve made on preventing gun violence foreseeable future, which is a big risk to take when we need urgent changes now to better protect our communities from the scourge of gun violence.

So I ask you to see the bigger issues at hand. Do we pass something today that jeopardizes our successes for next year? By no means do I have all the right answers, but I know that the change we need to prevent gun violence cannot happen overnight.

Now more than ever, we need the combined gun violence prevention community to prepare a short and long-term plan on how we can make impactful changes to the public health crisis that is gun violence without jeopardizing everything we have already worked so hard on.

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Colorado state Sen. Tom Sullivan represents parts of Arapahoe and Douglas counties.

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