Ten years ago Colorado enacted its first new gun control laws in decades, approving a ban on “large capacity” magazines (arbitrarily defined as any magazine that can accept more than 15 rounds) and “universal” background checks. Since the the Democrat-controlled legislature as added several additional gun control laws to the books, including Extreme Risk Protection Orders, while repealing the state’s firearm preemption law and allowing localities to impose their own local ordinances even more restrictive than state law.
All the while, the state’s violent crime rate has been been steadily rising, particularly in Denver and some of the surrounding suburbs like Aurora. But the failure of one gun control law is just an excuse to add even more to the books, as far as anti-gun lawmakers are concerned, and this year Democrats are expected to introduce an avalanche of anti-2A bills. Several have already been officially announced and have even received legislative hearings, while others, like a proposed ban on “assault weapons”, are still being crafted behind the scenes.
On Tuesday night, several Democrats sat down with the Denver Post to unveil one of their top priorities for this year’s session: banning the sale and possession of firearms to adults under the age of 21.
“We know that there’s a disproportionately high rate of violence perpetrated by young people using firearms,” Sen. Jessie Danielson, a Wheat Ridge Democrat, said, adding that that includes suicides.
Danielson, Sen. Kyle Mullica of Thornton, and Reps. Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Eliza Hamrick of Centennial, all Democrats, cited statistics on the policy from the Giffords Law Center for the need.
According to the center, there was a 61% increase in gun suicides among minors between 2011 and 2020 and 18- to 20-year-olds being 17% of known homicide offenders despite being 4% of the general population chief among them. The Giffords Law Center advocates for more stringent gun laws and is named for former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head at an event.
Duran, who is the House majority leader, said she couldn’t fathom the suicide increase in particular.
“I’m not saying that (the bill’s) going to fix everything, but it sure as hell is an important, huge step in recognizing and acknowledging that we need to do something here in Colorado,” Duran said.
What Colorado needs to do is address its crumbling mental health system, which is in dire need of repair; particularly when it comes to juvenile mental health.
As of February 28, 2022, Colorado has a bed capacity of 216 when it comes to psychiatric residential treatment for kids. There are another 156 beds for kids with more acute needs. And according to the Colorado Department of Human Services, 16 congregate care facilities for youth shut down in the last five years.
Over a decade ago, the philosophy on treatment changed with the belief kids would do better receiving treatment in familiar settings versus in a facility. Fifteen years ago, Colorado had more than 1,600 youth placed in congregate care settings. That population is now less than 300.
In an email to 9NEWS, the state wrote:
“Many youth who were previously served in residential facilities are able to be successfully served in their home or in family-like settings with outpatient services and supports. Very few youth demonstrated requiring the type of acute clinical care offered in congregate settings as most families benefited from local resources and referrals to community services aimed to strengthen families.”
But the concern over closing facilities creates a ripple effect for groups serving kids, as well as for Children’s Hospital Colorado.
Dr. Ron-Li Liaw, the hospital’s Mental Health-in-Chief, said the loss of residential beds for kids, as well as acute psychiatric beds, is being felt in their hospital. Kids are coming into their emergency department for help with nowhere else to go. Liaw said, at times, half of the department is filled with kids in a behavioral health crisis.
She also said some kids have stayed at the hospital for five to six months with nowhere to go for long-term care needs. She said this isn’t the right kind of care for kids, but they are doing the best they can while working to expand capacity.