Colorado Democrats' Gun Control Condundrum

Townhall Media

For years now I've been writing about the Democrats' fundamental contradiction with their desire for more gun control laws while "reforming" the criminal justice system to keep as many offenders as possible away from jails and prisons. On the one hand, the left constantly pushes to create new non-violent and possessory criminal offenses out of our right to keep and bear arms, all while railing against "mass incarceration" and the disproportionate harm that our existing laws do to young Black men. 


As we discuss on today's Bearing Arms Cam & Co, hat fundamental disconnect is on full display in Colorado this year, where Democrats have introduced bills creating a huge number of new "gun-free zones" off limits to concealed carry licensees and banning so-called assault weapons. While those bills are making progress, at least in the early days of this year's session, Colorado Sun reporter Jesse Paul reports that a measure increasing the penalties for stealing a gun has crashed and burned in committee thanks to the objections of gun-control supporting Democrats. 

“We’re not going to incarcerate ourselves out of this,” said state Sen. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat and one of the legislature’s fiercest gun safety voices. His son, Alex, was murdered in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. 

The penalty for stealing a firearm in Colorado depends on how valuable the weapon is. Stealing a gun that’s worth less than $300 is a petty offense, punishable by up to 10 days in jail. Gun theft becomes a felony, and carries the possibility of prison, only when the weapon stolen is worth more than $2,000. 

As introduced, House Bill 1162 would have made stealing a firearm of any value a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Stealing a subsequent gun or multiple guns in one instance would have been a Class 5 felony, punishable by up to three years in prison.

The increased penalties were estimated to cost the state an extra $1 million to imprison those convicted. That stoked concerns among the Democratic majority on the House Judiciary Committee about putting more people in prison, particularly people of color. 

To assuage those anxieties, the bill’s main sponsors, Democratic Rep. Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs and Republican Rep. Ryan Armagost of Berthoud, amended the measure during its first hearing on Feb. 14 to make it a Class 2 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 120 days in jail, to steal a firearm valued at less than $1,000. 

Snyder and Armagost hoped by taking the new felony offense off the table — and the prison term that accompanied it — the committee’s Democratic majority could be persuaded to advance the bill.


AB 1162 actually had support from both Ceasefire Colorado, the state's largest gun control group, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, but it was still too problematic for a majority of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee because it could lead to more people being sent to prison for what almost everyone agrees is a pretty serious crime. 

If, as longtime anti-gun activist Tom Sullivan argues, we can't incarcerate our way to public safety, then why are Democrats still pushing so many new restrictions on lawful gun owners? Well, for one thing, many of the bills targeting the right to carry or the right to own arms like AR-15s don't include any jail time for violations of the proposed laws. 

A prime example: Colorado’s new law imposing a three-day waiting period on gun purchases carries a fine of no more than $5,000, and it’s only that high for repeat offenders. 

House Bill 1270, introduced recently in the legislature, is another example. The measure would impose a $500 to $1,000 fine on gun owners who don’t obtain firearm liability insurance. Another measure introduced at the Capitol this year, House Bill 1292, would ban the purchase, sale and transfer in Colorado of a broad swath of semi-automatic firearms, defined in the legislation = as assault weapons. It would carry a $250,000 fine for a first offense and a $500,000 fine for subsequent offenses.


Apparently we can't incarcerate our way to safety, but we can fine our way to a crime-free utopia. 

While I'm happy that the proposed gun and carry bans don't include a potential prison sentence, that doesn't make them any less of an infringement on our right to keep and bear arms. It just means that gun owners who are caught violating these provisions would be subject to a lifetime of debt instead of a few months or years of incarceration. And it's not like this is some act of largess. It's simply the path that the Democrats have taken as they try to thread the needle between two incompatible positions: turning our Second Amendment rights into a never-ending string of criminal offenses and remaking the criminal justice system to keep as many offenders (both violent and non-violent) from doing any time behind bars after a guilty plea or conviction. 

Here's a better approach: ensure that actual offenders face real consequences for their crimes, while leaving lawful gun owners alone. Colorado's strategy of inflicting new gun control laws on the state's legal gun owners has only led to a staggering increase in violent crime over the past decade, and with Democrats doing all they can to keep those offenders from receiving justice going forward, the modest declines seen in cities like Denver and Aurora last year aren't likely to last for long. 


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