Colorado Democrats getting a little gun (control) shy ahead of elections?

Colorado Democrats getting a little gun (control) shy ahead of elections?
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

If the various gun control proposals put forward by Democrats and the gun control lobby were truly as valuable and necessary as they claim they are, political considerations wouldn’t even come into play. But the politics of gun control are very much an issue for Democrats in Colorado at the moment, who are increasingly worried that despite the state’s steady tilt leftward over the past couple of decades, a red wave election in November could wipe out their dominating position in the state capitol.

One example of the Democrats’ newfound hesitation on going hard after guns in an election year? Democratic state Rep. Tom Sullivan’s bill to raise the age to purchase a so-called assault weapon from 18 to 21, which is struggling to get support from the Democratic leaders in the state legislature.

Colorado law already prohibits purchase of handguns by people under 21, so Sullivan’s proposal would built on that. Similar policies have been adopted in a handful of other states, including Florida in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland. The shooter in that case, a 19-year-old, used an AR-15-style weapon.

It’s Sullivan’s belief that gun violence legislation should be discussed every year at the Capitol, and not just after mass shootings. Democrats control the legislature and they’ve been with him on that, passing seven new gun laws since they seized a legislative trifecta — House, Senate, governor’s office — in 2018. Six of those were signed into law last session, following the mass shooting at a King Soopers in Boulder.

Each of those laws was carefully choreographed. Statehouse leaders and Gov. Jared Polis like to be sure gun legislation will actually pass before expending political capital. They have also said they want to pass laws in this area only when they meaningfully reduce gun violence. Sullivan may yet win over his colleagues on this proposal, but unlike those seven gun laws since 2018, this one is less of a party priority.

Of his statehouse colleagues, Sullivan said, “They don’t have any problem going after big tobacco every year, but they shy away from doing things to prevent gun violence. The governor didn’t even mention the word ‘guns’ in the State of the State, neither the speaker (Alec Garnett) nor the minority leader (Hugh McKean) talked about gun violence prevention at all in their opening statements” on the first day of this year’s session.

The Denver Post reached out to Garnett to ask him specifically about Sullivan’s proposal, and got a lukewarm response in which the speaker said he hasn’t seen any evidence that raising the age to purchase a rifle would be an effective way to target violent crime, and that lawmakers “need to be focused on data-driven solutions that will have the most impact, or we may set back the progress we’ve made.”

Now, I’d argue that, based on the state’s violent crime rates since Democrats rammed through their magazine ban and universal background check laws in 2013, Colorado hasn’t made any progress at all. In fact, the state has regressed since 2014, and the trends have only accelerated over the past couple of years.

So it make sense for Democrats to de-prioritize gun control in this year’s legislative session, even if they still harbor views that are extraordinarily hostile to our right to keep and bear arms. And the Denver Post suggests that Democrats may not be able to stay away from the issue completely.

They’re primed to advance The Vote Without Fear Act, HB22-1086, a bill Sullivan is sponsoring to ban open carry of firearms at or near polling sites. They may also pass a bill seeking to eliminate so-called “ghost guns” — that is, unserialized and thus untraceable guns — but they’re hoping federal action on that front renders a state bill needless.

If we weren’t heading to the polls in November I’m sure that Sullivan would be trying to ban both open and concealed carry at or near polling places, but this is what election year “moderation” looks like from the gun ban crowd. I don’t think it’s going to be nearly enough to sooth the concerns of gun owners or satisfy the moms demanding action in Denver, but it does tell me that even in Colorado gun control isn’t the winning issue that the gun control lobby claims it to be.