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Two Bills Become Law, Raising age to Purchase firearms in Colorado to 21, and Allow Victims of Gun Violence to Seek Justice

This morning two bills focused on addressing the rising tide of gun violence in the nation became Colorado law, adding to the string of steps taken by the Colorado legislature to curb gun violence in the state.

Governor Jared Polis signed SB23-169 into law, raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21. Supporters of the bills say the legislation will help prevent young people from committing gun violence and save lives.

“Gun deaths in Colorado climb higher every year, and a disproportionate number of them are committed by younger Coloradans,” said Senator Kyle Mullica (D – Thornton) one of the bill’s sponsors. “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 new law that will reduce gun violence and save lives all across our state.”

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, sponsored by Mullica, and Jessie Danielson, D-Wheat Ridge, and House Minority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, and Rep. Eliza Hamrick, D-Centennial, would raise the age limit to purchase any firearm to 21 with limited exceptions.

“Gun violence is traumatic for anyone to experience, let alone for a child or young adult,” said Duran. “As a survivor of domestic violence and gun intimidation at a young age, I know firsthand how critical it is to prevent our youth from being put in a life-or-death situation because a firearm was too easily accessible. By increasing the minimum age to purchase a gun, we can prevent suicides and gun violence and keep our Colorado kids and communities safer.”

“Young people aged 12-24 make up one-fifth of the population, but commit just under half of all gun murders,” said Danielson. “There is an urgent need to do more to prevent gun violence in Colorado, and I am proud to champion this legislation that does 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.”

“Having been a teacher for over 30 years, so many of my students have grown up fearing the constant threat of gun violence – sadly, they are known as the lockdown generation,” said Hamrick. “From countless active shooter events to losing peers to suicide, Colorado youth are forced to grapple with gun violence from a very young age. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to implement this commonsense gun violence prevention policy into Colorado law to keep firearms away from our youth and our children, making our schools and 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. The site tracks that the firearm suicide rate among this group has increased a staggering 61 percent in the last decade.

Bill signed removing protections for the firearm industry that prevent gun violence survivors from pursuing accountability in civil court

Polis also signed into law SB23-168, termed “common sense gun violence prevention legislation,” that would allow survivors of gun violence access to the civil court system to pursue justice.

“Colorado used to be home to one of the most punitive laws against gun violence survivors in the country, laws that shielded them from accountability and needed to be changed,” said Senator Sonya Jaquez Lewis (D-Boulder). “This new law 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.”

The bill was sponsored by Lewis, and Senator Chris Kolker, D-Centennial, and Representatives Javier Mabrey, D-Denver, and Jennifer Parenti, D-Erie, to create new avenues for victims of gun violence to pursue justice.

Right now, gun sellers and manufacturers enjoy broad protections under the federal Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act from most types of civil lawsuits. Colorado law goes even further by including a punitive provision that forces victims of gun violence who sue the gun industry to pay the company’s legal fees in dismissed cases. SB23-168 removes Colorado’s overly-broad immunity protections for gun sellers and manufacturers and allows legitimate lawsuits against the gun industry to move forward.

“Colorado’s laws gave the firearm industry extreme and unjust legal protections that have prevented gun violence victims from seeking accountability,” said Mabrey. “By removing these excessive legal protections that aren’t afforded to the vast majority of other industries, we’re ensuring that Coloradans can hold bad actors accountable.”

“Previously, Colorado gun sellers and manufacturers were provided legal protections far beyond those for most other businesses in the state, and that prevented 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.”

“This law ends excessive immunity protections for the firearms industry and creates new avenues for gun violence victims to seek justice through the courts,” said Parenti.

This bill has real Colorado roots. After their daughter was killed in the Aurora movie 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 around $200,000 in legal fees to bulk ammunition sellers. They ended up selling their house and declared bankruptcy. SB23-168 is named the “Jessi Redfield Ghawi’s Act for Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Justice and Firearms Industry Accountability” in honor of Sandy and Lonnie Phillips’ daughter.

Featured image: Governor Jared Polis signs SB23-168 into law this morning at the Colorado State Capitol. Courtesy image, Governors Office.