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Three bills aimed at strengthening Colorado’s gun laws and reducing gun violence have been heard by Colorado Senate panels and are expected to advance to the Senate floor. They passed on a strict party-line vote before a panel that included Senator Tom Sullivan (whose focus on reducing gun violence stems from the loss of his son in the Aurora Theater shootings).

Colorado State Capitol and grounds. Photo by Colorado Public Radio

Colorado already has “red flag” laws, but one of the proposed bills, SB23-170 would strengthen the state’s extreme risk protection order (ERPO), also called “red flag” laws, which were first adopted in 2019. The update would allow district attorneys, educators, and health care professionals, especially mental health providers, to be added to those allowed to seek a red flag order from courts.

“Our Red Flag law has already saved lives in Colorado, but we can strengthen it so that it can be even more effective,” said Sullivan. “These common-sense updates will expand and improve our Red Flag law and create more opportunities for qualified individuals to assess the danger and act appropriately to prevent further violence and ultimately save more lives.”

Under the current law, which was extremely contentious when it was passed, only law enforcement or a family member can seek the order to remove firearms from a person who is considered a danger to themselves or to others. While many law enforcement officials and conservatives were publically against the law prior to passage, state statistics have shown that it has been used — and it works. But it isn’t being used widely across the state. An analysis by Colorado Public Radio in early 2023 revealed that 40 out of 64 counties have never seen an ERPO petition.

While the ERPO was used 109 times across the state in its first year (2019) more than half were issued in populous Denver County. But there were zero ERPOs requested in El Paso County. One factor, say researchers, is differences in how “extreme risk” is being defined.

SB23-169 would raise the legal age to purchase a firearm in the state of Colorado to age 21. Under current federal law individuals must be 21 years old to purchase a handgun, but only 18 years old to purchase long guns. SB23-169 would raise the age limit to purchase any firearm to 21 with limited exceptions.

The bill is sponsored by Senators Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton, and Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, cleared the Senate State, Veterans, & Military Affairs Committee  Wednesday.

“Gun deaths in Colorado climb higher every year, and a disproportionate number of them are committed by younger Coloradans,” said Mullica. “As an ER nurse I’ve seen firsthand the devastating ways gun violence impacts our communities, which is why I am proud to champion this bill that will reduce gun violence and save lives all across our state.”

“Young people aged 12-24 make up one-fifth of the population, but commit just under half of all gun murders,” Danielson said. “There is an urgent need to do more to prevent gun violence in Colorado, and I am proud to champion this legislation that will do just that. Raising the age to purchase a firearm will keep more deadly weapons away from our youth, reduce youth suicide rates, and make our communities safer.”

Another bill SB23-168 cleared the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee today, aimed at holding the gun industry accountable and improving gun violence survivors’ access to justice. It would remove Colorado’s overly-broad immunity protections for gun sellers and manufacturers and allow legitimate lawsuits against the gun industry to move forward.

The legislation was sponsored by Senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D -Longmont, and Chris Kolker, D-Centennial. Now, gun sellers and manufacturers enjoy broad protections under federal law from most types of civil lawsuits. Colorado law further financially penalizes the victims of gun violence. It currently includes a punitive provision that makes victims of gun violence who sue the gun industry pay the company’s legal fees in cases that are dismissed.