DENVER (AP) — Colorado Democratic lawmakers killed an ambitious bill Thursday that would have banned the sale and transfer of semiautomatic firearms, citing promises made to their constituents and concerns over the sweep of the ban even in a state still reeling from a mass shooting in Colorado Springs months earlier.
Washington state’s Democratic-controlled Statehouse cleared a ban on semiautomatic rifles Wednesday, joining the blue bastions of California and New York. But Colorado’s Democratic-controlled Legislature was split on the issue, underscoring the state’s purple roots, tensions between urban and rural constituents, and an ongoing push-and-pull between progressive and moderate Democrats that has defined this year’s legislative session.
The House Judiciary Committee vote followed an impassioned 14-hour hearing that began Wednesday morning and ended at 1 a.m. Thursday. Three Democrats on the panel voted “no” to kill the bill. They lauded Rep. Elisabeth Epps for her moral courage in bringing the bill forward but cited promises they made to their constituents to avoid government overreach affecting most gun owners’ rights.
Democratic Rep. Marc Snyder, who voted against the bill, said he’d told constituents he’d work to reduce gun violence. “But the other thing I told them was that I had no interest in taking guns away from law-abiding citizens. And the, bill I believe, does.”
In a last-ditch effort to get anything passed, Epps proposed amendments that would have watered the bill down to merely ban the sale of rapid-fire trigger activators and bump stocks, which allow someone to shoot faster.
Those changes also failed.
The bill was proposed mere months after five people were killed at an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Colorado Springs, the latest in a long Colorado history of mass shootings that include the 1999 Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 people. Others include 12 people killed in 2012 in an Aurora movie theater and 10 people killed in 2021 at a Boulder supermarket.
The Legislature has already cleared a number of less ambitious gun control bills. Those include strengthening red-flag laws — which allow a judge to temporarily remove someone’s firearm if they pose a risk to themselves or others — along with raising the age for buying a gun to 21 and installing a three-day waiting period following the a gun purchase. Another bill would empower victims of gun violence to lodge civil suits against the gun industry.
Those bills are expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, more closely aligning Colorado gun law with the liberal strongholds of California, New York and Washington state.
Polis, along with Democratic leadership in Colorado’s House and Senate, was wary of the proposed semiautomatic firearm ban. Support for gun rights remains strong in the state’s vast rural areas, and lawmakers are mindful that voters ousted two state legislators in recall elections triggered by their support for tougher gun laws after the Aurora shooting.
More than 500 people signed up to testify at the hearing on the semiautomatic ban bill, the vast majority in opposition to the measure. Testimony ranged from threats of lawsuits from Second Amendment advocates to admonishments of moderate Democrats who didn’t support the bill.