With expanded majorities in both legislative chambers and fresh on the heels of the mass murder at a Colorado Springs nightclub, Democratic lawmakers are expected to make gun control a top priority when the return to the state capitol in just a few weeks, though it’s still an open question as to what specific proposals they’re going to push.
Maybe a more accurate way of putting it is to call the current situation “fluid,” with some of the more vociferous fans of gun control calling for legislators to go big and enact a ban on so-called assault weapons while others are backing bills that would impose new restrictions on their purchase and possession but wouldn’t ban them outright.
Geography undoubtably has something to do with the reluctance of some Democrats to hop on board the gun ban bandwagon, with rural Democrats likely to face a backlash from their constituents if they vote in favor of banning AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles. But as one anti-gun lawmaker recently admitted, one of the challenges facing the gun ban fans is that no one can agree on how to define the guns they want to prohibit.
“Pretty much everything is on the table,” said Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat. “The question now is: What seems like a priority?”
Fenberg, who said gun control conversations were underway even before the Club Q shootings, said a ban on so-called assault weapons is certainly a possibility. The challenge is figuring out how to write the complicated policy, including how to define what an assault weapon is, what should happen to such weapons that are already in the possession of Colorado residents and how to address people traveling to neighboring states to purchase weapons that would be prohibited in Colorado.
“I’ve always said that I support an assault weapons ban,” he said. “I don’t think in this day and age it makes sense that people can purchase weapons of war. It’s something (where) we have to make sure the policy is right. I think there’s still ongoing conversations about what the policy would be.”
Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat who won election to a state Senate seat in November, is working on changing the minimum age to purchase a gun. He initially wanted to raise the age only for so-called assault weapons, but thinks a broader change would be easier.
“That kind of will save us having to come up with a definition of what assault weapons are,” said Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. “And that seems to be the consensus that we’re hearing from the rest of the caucus.”
Not that we needed any more proof that “assault weapon” is just an invented term whose real definition is “gun someone wants banned”, but here it is anyway.
Still, as helpful as that admission may be for gun owners, I’m not buying it as an explanation for why Democrats in the state might not push for an “assault weapons” ban in 2023. Sure, there’s no standard definition of what makes a rifle an “assault weapon”, but that just means Colorado Democrats have plenty of options to choose from, and they could always hash out the particulars in the committee process.
Instead, it looks like Fenberg and Sullivan are both trying to manage expectations and putting gun control supporters on notice that an outright ban on “assault weapons” is probably not going to happen. But if trying to define the guns to be banned isn’t the issue, then what is?
There are a couple of possibilities, and honestly, we may be seeing the combination of several factors at work here.
The simplest explanation is that there are enough Democrats in either the House and Senate who are concerned about either the political backlash over their support or have legitimate concerns about a gun ban itself and how it would be implemented. Colorado has already seen a number of counties declare themselves to be Second Amendment sanctuaries, and the opposition and outright defiance to any ban encompassing existing owners would be widespread. It may very well be that several Democrats have quietly informed their colleagues that this isn’t a fight their eager to pick, especially when they can back more “moderate” restrictions like raising the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21 instead.
Some Democrats may even want to hold off on a gun ban until they see what the courts have to say about local bans already enacted by Boulder County and several cities; bans that are currently on hold thanks to a federal judge. Honestly, though, we haven’t seen Democrats give much deference to the courts when it comes to anti-gun laws in other states, so I doubt that’s what’s really driving the hesitation over a sweeping gun ban.
And there’s always the possibility that the Democrats in support of a ban will be able to twist enough arms and sweet talk enough of their fellow legislators to get a gun ban to the desk of Gov. Jared Polis. Fenberg isn’t completely dismissive of the idea even if he’s playing up the “challenge” of writing a ban on modern sporting rifles, which suggests that there may some behind-the-scenes lobbying continuing to take place.
My guess is that the potential political repercussions are the driving force gumming up the Democrats’ gun ban plans, and I’d encourage every Colorado gun owner to keep up the pressure by contacting their lawmakers and letting them know of their own opposition. The Second Amendment right of Colorado residents are still likely to be subjected to new unconstitutional infringements in 2023 that will have their day in court, but gun owners and 2A defenders might be able to prevent an outright ban from ever being signed into law in the first place.