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Colorado governor signs gun control bills after massacre

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DENVER — Colorado’s governor signed four gun control bills Friday, following the lead of other states struggling to confront a nationwide surge in violent crime and mass shootings, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that expanded Second Amendment rights.

Before the ink was even dry on Gov. Jared Polis’ signature, gun rights groups sued to reverse two of the measures: raising the buying age for any gun from 18 to 21, and establishing a three-day waiting period between the purchase and receipt of a gun. The courts are already weighing lawsuits over such restrictions in other states.

The new laws, which Democrats pushed through despite late-night filibusters from Republicans, are aimed at quelling rising suicides and youth violence, preventing mass shootings and opening avenues for gun violence victims to sue the long-protected firearm industry. They were enacted just months after a mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in Colorado Springs.

“Coloradoans deserve to be safe in our communities, in our schools, in our grocery stores, in our nightclubs,” Polis said as he signed the measures in his office while flanked by activists wearing red shirts reading “Moms Demand Action,” students from a Denver high school recently affected by a shooting, and parents of a woman killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.

Supportive lawmakers and citizens alike had tears in their eyes and roared their applause as Polis signed each bill. Colorado has a history of notorious mass shootings, reaching back to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

Republicans decried the bills as onerous encroachments on Second Amendment rights that would impede Colorado residents’ ability to defend themselves amid a rising statewide crime rate. Gun rights advocates pledged to reverse the measures.

“This is simply bigoted politicians doing what bigoted politicians do: discriminating against an age,” said Taylor Rhodes, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, referring to the new age limit on gun purchases. Rhodes said he’s confident in the lawsuits and expects a judge to issue a temporary restraining order that would block the state from enforcing the new laws until the issue is resolved in court.

A third measure passed by the legislature will strengthen the state’s red flag law, which allows a judge to temporarily remove someone’s gun if the person poses a threat to themselves or others. A fourth rolls back some legal protections for the firearm industry, exposing them to lawsuits from the victims of gun violence.

A fifth proposal, a sweeping ban on semi-automatic firearms that includes certain pistols, shotguns and rifles, was killed by Democrats last week — illustrating that the Democratic majority was only willing to go so far when it came to gun restrictions.

The new red flag law, also called an extreme risk protection order, empowers those working closely with youth and adults — doctors, mental health professionals, and teachers — to petition a judge to temporarily remove someone’s firearm. Previously, petition power was limited mainly to law-enforcement and family members.

Republicans argued that the law would discourage people from candidly speaking with medical doctors and mental health professionals for fear of having their weapons temporarily seized.

The law requiring a three-day delay between buying and receiving a firearm — an attempt to curtail impulsive violence and suicide attempts — puts Colorado in line with nine other states, including California, Hawaii and Florida.

Colorado has the sixth-highest suicide rate in the country, with nearly 1,400 in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A RAND Corporation analysis of four studies found that waiting periods are linked to lower suicide-by-gun deaths.

Republicans raised concerns that people needing to defend themselves — such as victims of domestic violence — may not be able to get a gun in time to do so.

In raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, Colorado joins California, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, New York and Rhode Island. Proponents point to now oft-cited data from the CDC showing that gun violence has overtaken vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for children and teenagers in recent years.

Colorado is also rolling back long-standing legal protections for gun manufacturers and dealers — laws that have kept the industry at arm’s length from questions of blame, especially following mass shootings. California, Delaware, New York and New Jersey have passed similar legislation over the past three years.

Colorado’s bill repeals the state’s 2000 law, which broadly kept firearm companies from being held liable for violence perpetrated with their products. While the industry is still largely shielded from liability under federal law, the rules make it easier for victims of gun violence to lodge suits.

Last year, for example, Remington, the company that made the rifle used in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, settled a lawsuit filed by the families of those killed for $73 million. The families accused the company of targeting younger, at-risk males in advertising, and placing their products in violent video games.

Opponents of the bill argued that it would merely bog the firearms industry down in bogus lawsuits.

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