Two gun bills dealing with storage, stolen firearms advance in the Colorado legislature

A bill that would require people to safely store guns in their homes and another requiring people report lost or stolen firearms within five days cleared their first hurdles in the Colorado Legislature this week.

The Democratic-backed proposals moved forward after at least one late-night hearing and without Republican support; one is headed to the House for a vote and the other the Senate.

Here’s a look at the measures and arguments for and against them.

Gun storage

Democratic lawmakers are looking to mandate that firearms that could be accessible to children, teenagers or adults living in the home who shouldn’t have access to a gun be securely stored when not in use. If that’s found not to be the case, gun owners could face a Class 2 misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail or a fine of up to $1,000, or both.

Any sale of new or used guns would have to come with a trigger or cable locking device that would keep a gun secure unless disabled, or violators could face an unclassified misdemeanor charge, carrying a fine of up to $500. The bill also requires the state’s Office of Suicide Prevention to develop a safe storage educational campaign.

Bill sponsors said it’s less about proactive enforcement and more about promoting responsible gun ownership, particularly considering increasing rates of youth suicides and accidental shootings. Several Colorado medical professionals who testified Monday in front of the House State, Civic and Military Affairs Committee recalled instances of young patients involved in accidental shootings.

“The vast majority of gun owners are responsible law-abiding citizens,” Democratic Rep. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge said. “They already store their gun safely, but like these tragedies have shown us, some still do not and it costs lives.”

Duran cited data by Colorado Ceasefire that showed 836 Coloradans, 74 of whom were children and teens, died due to firearms in 2019. Since 2015, there were at least 21 unintentional shootings by children, she said.

The measure does provide an exemption for those who are carrying guns or if a gun is in close proximity, as well as a defense in court for teens who use a gun to protect themselves or livestock.

“Let’s be clear: This bill is about one thing and one thing only, and that is about protecting our children,” said sponsor Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Northglenn Democrat and gun owner. It’s not a “gun grab or a way to track gun owners,” he said.

During the hearing, opponents cited constitutionality concerns. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents 9,000 firearms retailers, manufacturers and distributors, called it an unnecessary measure. And at least one gun rights advocate and the gun rights advocacy group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners said the bill makes it harder for lower-income families, including those who already own guns and can’t afford to buy locking mechanisms.

Nephi Cole, director of government relations-state affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said its retailers already sell trigger locks with “virtually every firearm sold in the United States of America” and accidental firearm deaths have declined 44% since 1999 to less than 1% of accidental deaths in the U.S.

“We believe that people are making good decisions,” Cole said. “We believe that individuals should be allowed to continue to do so.”

But researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine told committee members that from 2014 to 2019, Colorado children are increasingly injured by firearms, averaging about one per day.

And Dr. Maya Haasz of Children’s Hospital Colorado noted that more than 90% of those who attempt suicide by firearm will die, many of which are a result of an impulsive decision.

But federal law already requires selling gun locks with any handgun, Tim Brough, the owner of Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply in Fort Collins, told The Denver Post in an interview. He also added that handguns from manufacturers often come with a locking mechanism.

Most stores have gun locks available for long guns, and his shop provides locks to customers for free with gun purchases. The new law would require them to make sure they have more readily available, he said, but usually they can be purchased for $10 or less.

“It wouldn’t change our operations much,” he said.

Other supporters of the bill at the committee included gun safety advocates, including the mother of two students who survived the 2019 shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.

The safe storage bill is headed to the House floor for debate next week.

Lost and stolen guns

Democrats are also looking to require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms to police within five days of finding out they’re missing. If they don’t, they could face a civil infraction of a $25 fine for the first failure to report; a second failure could result in an unclassified misdemeanor charge, carrying a fine of up to $500.

Police also will be required to enter information about the lost or stolen guns in the National Crime Information Center database and report it to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

Lafayette Democratic Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis is a sponsor of the bill and says it’s aimed to be education as well as  prevent gun violence and gun trafficking.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony late Thursday night from people like Ana Thallas, whose 21-year-old daughter Isabella Thallas was fatally shot and her boyfriend injured in June after a dispute. Police said the suspect was friends with a Denver police sergeant and had stolen a personal weapon from the officer and used it in the killing.

“She had a future that was lost, that was stolen,” Thallas said. “All of which could have been avoided if an AK-47 was used responsibly, and was reported lost or stolen.”

But gun rights advocates like Lesley Hollywood, who heads up the group Rally for Our Rights, said responsible gun owners already report when their firearms are lost or stolen — in an even shorter period of time.

The issue, she said, is police don’t actively try to find guns that are reported stolen. She also said that if the safe storage bill passes and someone’s gun is stolen, it might criminalize a victim or violate their Fifth Amendment rights.

“With these two bills together, you’re going to have gun owners afraid to now report their gun stolen and have to choose what offense they’d rather have,” she said.

Bill sponsors point to FBI data that estimates more than 30,000 guns were stolen in Colorado between 2015 and 2019. Across the country, almost 380,000 guns are stolen each year, according to a 2017 survey by Harvard researchers.

Although sponsors say similar bills have passed in Michigan, Minnesota and other states, Republicans were not swayed, with Sen. Bob Gardner questioning whether such a small fine would even make a difference to those who don’t report.

Gardner, of Colorado Springs, said the issue is not with law-abiding firearm owners not reporting.

“It’s about gun violence, stolen firearms and serious crime,” he said. “And when we get serious about it and we get serious about punishing those who commit those kinds of crimes, I think will make a difference.”

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