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Colorado State Senate chambers. Photo courtesy of KUNC.

Last Thursday marked the official halfway point of the 74th Colorado General Assembly and the Democrats who control both the House and the Senate are moving their agenda forward. In the past 48 hours, the Colorado Senate has advanced three bills designed to reduce gun violence in the state

Expansion of Colorado Red Flag Law

The Senate on Monday signed off on legislation sponsored by Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, and Senator Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial that will expand and strengthen Colorado’s “Red Flag” law.

SB23-170 will expand eligibility to file for an Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) to more individuals who are in a position to recognize when a person is a threat to themselves or others. which will allow more qualified individuals to intervene before gun violence has a chance to occur.

“Red Flag laws are one of the most effective tools we have to prevent gun violence, but unfortunately, Colorado’s Red Flag law is tragically underutilized,” said Fenberg. “This bill will strengthen our state’s Red Flag law and increase the number of individuals who can file for an extreme risk protection order, which will create more opportunities for community members to recognize when something is wrong and intervene in a way that will prevent further gun violence and save countless lives across our state.”

“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.”

Originally passed by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Polis in 2019, the Zackari Parrish III Violence Prevention Act is a tool used to temporarily remove firearms from a person who a judge determines is a threat to themselves or others. Currently. a petition for removal can only be filed by a family member or a law enforcement officer. SB23-170 will expand the list of individuals eligible to file an ERPO to include DAs and other law enforcement officials, licensed healthcare providers, mental health professionals, and educators.

According to the Associated Press, Colorado has one of the lowest use rates of its Red Flag law of any state with red flag laws on the books. Colorado issued only 3.3 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents through 2021, ranking the sixth lowest among 19 states that have Red Flag laws. In comparison, Florida issues 33.6 protection orders per 100,000 adult residents. Researchers have found that for every 10 to 20 protection orders, one suicide might be averted.

SB23-170 will now move to the House for further consideration.

Legislation to hold gun industry accountable

Sponsored by Senators Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D-Longmont, and Chris Kolker, D-Centennial, SB23-168 was passed in the Senate on third and final reading. The bill aims to hold the gun industry accountable and improve gun violence survivors’ access to pursue justice and accountability through the courts.

Right now gun sellers and manufacturers enjoy broad protections under federal law from most types of civil lawsuits – and Colorado law goes even further by including a punitive provision that makes victims of gun violence who sue the gun industry pay the company’s legal fees in dismissed cases. SB23-168 would remove Colorado’s overly-broad immunity protections for gun sellers and manufacturers and allow legitimate lawsuits against the gun industry to move forward.

“Colorado is home to one of the most punitive laws against gun violence survivors in the country. Colorado law gives a set of protections to the firearms industry that few other businesses have. These laws shield them from accountability and must be changed,” said Jaquez Lewis. “This legislation will level the playing field by removing those extra protections and allowing legitimate lawsuits to move forward, ensuring the gun industry is no longer given special treatment and improving gun violence survivors’ ability to seek the justice they deserve.”

“Currently, Colorado gun sellers and manufacturers are provided legal protections far beyond those for most other businesses in the state and that bar victims of gun violence from seeking justice,” said Kolker. “Removing Colorado’s overly broad gun industry immunity law will provide another avenue for survivors to pursue justice if they are harmed by irresponsible business practices.”

Civil liability plays an important role in promoting community and consumer safety. After their daughter was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, Sandy and Lonnie Phillips sued four online retailers that irresponsibly sold magazines, thousands of rounds of ammunition and body armor to the murderer. Under Colorado’s immunity law, they were forced to pay about $200,000 in legal fees to bulk ammunition sellers. They ended up selling their house and declaring bankruptcy.

Removing Colorado’s gun industry shield can allow survivors like the Phillips’ to seek appropriate justice and fair remedies via civil actions, giving survivors and the public the opportunity to hold gun sellers and manufacturers accountable for their actions. SB23-168 will now move to the House for further consideration.

SB23-169 Would Raise Gun Purchase Age to 21

Legislation that cleared the senate on Monday was sponsored by Senators Kyle Mullica, D-Thornton, and Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge. It would raise the minimum age to purchase a firearm in Colorado to 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.

“Gun deaths in Colorado climb higher every year, and a disproportionate number of them are committed by younger Coloradans,” Mullica said. “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.”

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, firearms are the leading cause of death for young people in the U.S. ages 18 to 20, and the firearm suicide rate among this group has increased a staggering 61 percent in the last decade.

18 to 20-year-olds commit gun murders at triple the rate of adults 21 years and older, and peer-reviewed research shows that adolescent and post-adolescents have less capacity for mature judgment and self-control, which often leads to risky behavior and aggressive impulses.

The bill now moves to the House for further consideration.