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Colorado Semi-Auto Ban Expected to Fail in Committee

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With just two days left in the legislative session, one of the prime architects of a sweeping semi-auto ban that’s already been approved by the Colorado House says she’s asking for her bill to be killed in a Senate committee, even while vowing to revisit the ban in the future. 

Rep. Julie Gonzales’s decision has more to do with saving face than protecting the Second Amendment, given that the bill faced a tough vote in a key Senate committee and had been treated with skepticism by Gov. Jared Polis.

Even if Gonzales had not asked for the bill to be killed, it was unclear if the measure could make it out of the Senate State, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. 

Democrats have a 3-2 majority on the panel, but one of the three Democrats is Sen. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial lawmaker whose son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting. Sullivan is a fierce gun-regulation advocate but a skeptic of a so-called assault weapons ban in Colorado.

“Banning? That doesn’t end well for us,” Sullivan, told The Washington Post last year. “And I’m speaking as the father of a son who was murdered by an assault weapon.”

It was unclear if the bill had enough support to pass the full Senate. Gov. Jared Polis also said he is skeptical of the idea.

“I’ve long been skeptical of discussions around ‘this kind of equipment versus that kind of equipment,’” the Democrat told The Sun in an interview earlier this year. “I think it’s more an issue of making sure our gun safety laws are followed. I think where you can and can’t safely carry guns is a legitimate discussion, as well as making sure that our strong gun laws are enforced.”

Now Gonzales can claim she asked for the bill to be set aside, instead of having to explain why it was shot down by a gun control advocate in the Senate or vetoed by the governor. That might spare her some embarrassment, but it doesn’t change the fact that the bill had struggled to find support, even in a session where Democrats have advanced a number of other gun control measures. 

Colarado isn’t the only state where gun control advocates have been thwarted in their efforts to put a semi-auto ban in place this year. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called on lawmakers to adopt a state-level version of U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich’s ban on gas-operated semi-automatic long guns, but the bill was left pending in committee. Anti-gun activists had called on Maine lawmakers to pass a semi-auto ban this session as well, but Democrats instead chose to adopt a 72-hour waiting period bill, expand the state’s “yellow flag” law, and impose background check requirements on firearms advertised for sale.

Sponsors of the Colorado bill are patting themselves on the back for at least getting the gun ban through the House, and they’re vowing to try again next session. 

The main House sponsors of Senate Bill 1292 were Reps. Tim Hernández and Elisabeth Epps, both Denver Democrats. “I think we had an pretty Herculean effort this year, going from first committee death last year to passing an entire chamber,” Hernández said. “About 50 days from now, I will be pulling the bill title for next year. And I’m really looking forward to running it next year as well.”

Hopefully by next year the Supreme Court will have weighed in on the “assault weapon” bans in Illinois and Maryland, and declared them unconstitutional. The Court is scheduled to consider whether to accept those cases at its May 16th conference. If we get a quick (and favorable) decision, oral arguments could take place in the fall, with a decision coming a few months later. It’s ultimately going to take Court action to stop these “Herculean efforts” that are trampling on our Second Amendment rights, and if there are four justices willing to hear one or both challenges this fall, then Colorado’s proposed gun ban could be mooted before next year’s session even begins.  

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