Colorado’s governor signed four gun control bills Friday, a significant move in a state with a long history of mass gun violence, including a shooting last fall at an LGBTQ+ nightclub that left five people dead.
The legislation comes as states across the US struggle to confront a nationwide surge in violent crime and mass shootings, and a recent supreme court ruling that expanded second amendment rights.
The measures in Colorado include legislation to raise the buying age for any gun from 18 to 21, establish a three-day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun and institute a new red flag law.
“Coloradans deserve to be safe in our communities, in our schools, in our grocery stores, in our nightclubs,” said Jared Polis, the governor, as he signed the measures in his office.
The new laws, which Democrats pushed through despite late-night filibusters from Republicans, are aimed at quelling rising suicides and youth violence, preventing mass shootings and opening avenues for gun violence victims to sue the long-protected firearm industry. They were enacted just five months after a mass shooting at Club Q, an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs.
The state saw 13 mass shootings last year and saw more people injured by mass gun violence than in any previous year, Colorado Public Radio reported.
Supportive lawmakers and citizens alike had tears in their eyes and roared their applause as Polis signed each bill. Colorado has a history of notorious mass shootings reaching back to the Columbine high school massacre in 1999.
Republicans decried the bills as onerous encroachments on second amendment rights that would impede Colorado residents’ ability to defend themselves amid a rising statewide crime rate. Before the ink was even dry, gun rights groups sued to reverse two of the measures. The courts are already weighing lawsuits over such restrictions in other states.
“It’s a sad day for Colorado; we are becoming one of the most anti-second amendment states in the nation,” said Mike Lynch, the Republican minority leader.
A third measure passed by the legislature will strengthen the state’s red flag law, and a fourth rolls back some legal protections for the firearm industry, exposing them to lawsuits from the victims of gun violence.
The new red flag law, also called an extreme risk protection order, empowers those working closely with youth and adults – doctors, mental health professionals, and teachers – to petition a judge to temporarily remove someone’s firearm. Previously, petition power was limited mainly to law enforcement and family members. The goal is to act preemptively before someone attempts suicide or attacks others.
The law requiring a three-day delay between buying and receiving a firearm – an attempt to curtail impulsive violence and suicide attempts – puts Colorado in line with nine other states, including California, Florida and Hawaii.
Colorado has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the country, with nearly 1,400 in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Rand Corporation analysis of four studies found that waiting periods are linked to lower suicide-by-gun deaths.
Opponents raised concerns that people who need to defend themselves – such as victims of domestic violence – may not be able to get a gun in time to do so.
In raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, Colorado joins California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Rhode Island. Proponents point to now oft-cited data from the CDC showing that gun violence has overtaken vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in recent years.
In their speeches about rolling back legal protections for gun manufacturers, lawmakers looked often to Sandy and Lonnie Phillips, whose daughter, Jessica Ghawi, was slain in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. The parents tried to sue the companies that had sold the shooter ammunition and tear gas but were unsuccessful. Ultimately, the couple ended up owing more than $200,000 in defense attorney fees and had to file for bankruptcy.
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