‘Assault Weapon’ Ban Advances in Colorado After Marathon Hearing

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AP Photo/Brittainy Newman

The Colorado House Judiciary Committee approved a sweeping ban on semi-automatic firearms early this morning after a marathon hearing that featured hours of testimony from supporters and opponents. The 7-3 vote to advance HB 1292 fell along party lines, with every Democrat on the committee voting in favor of the gun ban legislation. 

Under the current text of HB 1292, it would be forbidden to manufacture, import, purchase, sell, offer to sell, or transfer ownership of any firearm defined as an “assault weapon”. It would also be a crime to possess a “rapid fire trigger activator”, which the bill defines as “any manual, power-driven, or electronic device that is designed and functions to increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic firearm”. 

HB 1292’s definition of “assault weapon” is too long for me to include here, but you can find the lengthy list of features and firearms (rifles, shotguns, and pistols) that are covered by name starting on page six of the bill

The legislation did undergo some minor changes during the hearing that started on Tuesday afternoon, including revisions to the penalties for violating the law. Originally, HB 1292 called for a civil fine of $250,000 for a first offense and a $500,000 penalty for subsequent offenses, but did not impose any prison time. Now the bill includes a provision making a violation of the law a petty offense punishable by up to ten days in jail and a $300 fine.

As the Colorado Sun reports, while the bill may have advanced along partisan lines this morning, the gun ban measure still faces an uncertain future in the Democrat-controlled legislature. 

Even if it passes the House, the General Assembly’s more liberal chamber, it may face defeat in the Senate, where it doesn’t even have a prime sponsor yet, a requirement. 
“I think it’s still going to be challenging to get a bill like that passed in the Senate right now,” Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat who supports an assault weapons ban, told reporters in February. 
And even if it passes the Senate, the measure will be sent to the desk of a skeptical Gov. Jared Polis. 
State Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Denver Democrat and one of the lead sponsors of the bill, acknowledged that political uncertainty Tuesday as she introduced the measure to the House Judiciary Committee.
“Coloradans want to be able to go to school, go to work, get gas — live their lives — without the omnipresent and very real, palpable threat of preventable gun violence permeating our every step,” she said. “What is unknown is whether or not this is the year when we as a body will, without reservation, choose to prioritize saving lives over saving seats.”
By seats, Epps meant lawmakers’ seats in the Capitol. Specifically, those held by fellow Democrats. 
In 2013, two Democratic senators were recalled and a third resigned in response to their support for a package of gun control measures passed in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre and the Aurora theater shooting the year before. 
And while it’s true that some Democrats in the legislature now are fearful of similar political backlash if House Bill 1292 passes, others simply think the policy won’t be effective on the state level. 
State Sen. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat whose son was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting, is one of the state’s most fervent gun regulation advocates. But he believes the state doesn’t have enough resources to enforce limitations on so-called assault weapons. He favors a federal approach. 

I’m glad to see that even sponsors of the bill aren’t assuring supporters of its passage, but Colorado gun owners cannot be complacent about HB 1292 or any of the other anti-2A measures that have been introduced this year, which include bills creating a number of new “gun-free zones” where concealed carry would be banned, prohibiting teachers from serving as armed school staff, and an 11 percent tax on firearms and ammunition. 

During the hearing on HB 1292, opponents brought up a number of reasons why the bill should be defeated, including the fact that crime in Colorado has steadily increased over the past decade even as the state has adopted bans on “large capacity” magazines, “red flag” laws, “universal” background checks, and a repeal of the firearms preemption law. Between 2012 and 2022, crime in the Centennial State grew by more than 20 percent, even as neighboring states like Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, and Nebraska have all seen double-digit declines in their crime rates. 

For ten years now Colorado lawmakers have tried a trickle-down approach to public safety; imposing new restrictions on lawful gun owners in the hopes that the effect of those measures will make it harder for criminals to acquire and use guns in crime instead of directly targeting violent actors with stiffer sentences. 

That backward approach has come with deadly consequences for Coloradans, and HB 1292 promises more of the same if enacted. Carjackers, home invaders, and gang members aren’t going to be touched by HB 1292. Instead, it will once again be the state’s legal gun owners who bear the brunt of the legislature’s attacks on the right to keep and bear arms if the gun ban bill becomes law.  

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