The third of three bills intended to address gun violence in Colorado cleared a state Senate panel on Tuesday, with emotional testimony from gun control advocates and, for the first time, opposition testimony from U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt.
SB 256 specifically allows local governments to enact laws to ban concealed carry weapons in their jurisdictions, and that’s what drew dozens of witnesses to testify against the bill, more than those who testified against two previous gun control bills passed in House committees last week.
The bill had its first hearing Tuesday with the Democratic-controlled Senate State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee, with an anticipated list of 50 witnesses.
In Boulder, where a gunman killed 10 people on March 22, a Boulder County judge overturned a city council ordinance just 10 days before the shooting that banned assault weapons within Boulder city limits. Many witnesses cited that decision as the reason for the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg of Boulder, in response to questions, said “the bill won’t save every life from gun violence, nor does it mean we will never have to talk about gun violence again.” It’s one piece in a framework of policies, Fenberg said.
“When it comes to life or death, people fearing for their lives, we should give local governments the ability to make decisions that they think are best for their community,” Fenberg said.
The bill applies to all local governments, including special districts, many which cross county lines that could have different regulations on firearms. That led Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, to ask how that would work.
Co-sponsor Sen. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, replied that he sponsored a bill to lift the pre-emption on minimum wage laws in 2019, and the solution in that legislation was to ask counties to “cooperate.” Fenberg also noted that special districts could prohibit firearms in their buildings, which is under their jurisdiction.
Sonnenberg pointed out language in SB 256 that says local governments are “uniquely equipped to make determinations” about their firearms laws, but that the bill only allows local governments to make stricter laws, not less strict laws, indicating that the bill really doesn’t trust local governments that much.
Boebert, who has made a name for herself for her pro-gun views since winning the 3rd Congressional District seat last November, testified remotely against SB 256, claiming “Democrats don’t want more local control, they just want more control, period, especially gun control.”
In a time of unrest, with cities across America under siege, she said, Americans want to protect themselves, but Colorado wants to take away their firearms, she said.
“Gun laws don’t deter people from committing gun violence,” she said, citing a variety of gun control laws passed in Colorado on background checks and gun-free zones. “This legislation is an unconstitutional attempt to strip the people of Colorado from purchasing, selling and even carrying firearms.”
In Colorado law, the only gun-free zones — places where concealed weapons are not allowed — are public and private schools, colleges and universities and public buildings.
Boebert told local podcast host Joe Oltmann last month she would work to expose bills from the state legislature that have negative impacts on rural communities, although she has no say in what goes on in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.
Eileen McCarron of Colorado Ceasefire, who testified on two other gun control bills adopted by House committees last week, noted she had spoken against the 2003 bill that established the pre-emption law. She explained that museums, town halls, libraries and zoos in Denver must allow their patrons to conceal-carry a weapon. However, another witness pointed out that no one has claimed a concealed-carry holder ever committed a crime.
Speaking on behalf of the city of Boulder, Annette Moore talked about why the city passed the assault weapon ban.
“We’re still reeling from the mass shooting,” she said. As to the assault weapons ban, “we cannot do it alone with our legislative hands tied behind our backs.”
The ban was enacted because of the city’s demographic characteristics, which she said puts the city at higher risk for mass shootings. Part of that is based on its higher concentration of 18- to 24-year-olds, 30% in Boulder versus 10% in other communities. Young people commit a disproportionate number of mass shootings, Moore claimed.
The city’s high-density office spaces also elevate that risk, she said. If an assault weapons ban is not enacted at the state or local level, the city needs the ability to do it on their own, she told the committee.
Dawn Reinfeld of Blue Rising, a gun control group, talked about what it’s like for her teenage son. He recently went to a Boulder King Soopers, and she asked him how he felt. He’s already scared of being shot at school, and just can’t process being scared at the grocery store, too, she said.
“This is what it’s like for our kids growing up in Colorado right now,” Reinfield said. There’s a gun store a half block from a Boulder high school, and an 18-year old can buy a gun on the lunch break without a waiting period, and create mass carnage, she said.
“This is the situation we hoped to prevent” with the assault weapon ban, she said.
In opposition to SB 256, Colorado Springs City Councilman and former Secretary of State Wayne Williams said allowing local governments to ban firearms isn’t just about buildings; special districts and local governments also own local public roads and sidewalks, and that could affect someone just driving home from work.
Two witnesses also accused the sponsors of exploiting the tragedy in Boulder for their own purposes, including Lesley Hollywood of Rally for Our Rights.
Two Teller County commissioners testified against the bill, including Erik Stone, who said he traveled 86 miles from Woodland Park to the state Capitol, going through four counties and 11 municipalities.
One in four Teller County adults have concealed weapon permits, he said. It would be impossible to wade through the minefield of laws that would take place under this bill, he said, both for Coloradans and for citizens of other states with reciprocity on concealed carry with Colorado. He also said Colorado is risking its reciprocity with 28 other states with the bill, which those states could view as entrapment.
Amanda Sanders testified that she obtained a concealed weapons permit to protect herself in a domestic violence situation. She travels for work across the state, and fears she would be in danger if she is no longer allowed to carry her weapon.
“If I travel across counties, I don’t know what laws they have," she said. "If I stop off to get gas and (my) firearm shows ... I can be brought up on criminal charges.”
The bill was amended Tuesday at the request of the sponsors to clarify rules around the Colorado Bureau of Investigations’ role, that they would not be required to do additional background checks and are not subject to anything other than state law, even if a local jurisdiction enacted additional background check laws tied to firearms purchases.
Another amendment clarified that a special district can only issue restrictions in buildings or specific areas under the direct control of the district. Sonnenberg said that could apply to a headgate in a water district, for example. It will depend on the special district, Fenberg replied.
Notable in their absence: representatives of the Special Districts Association of Colorado, the Colorado Municipal League and Colorado Counties Inc. A review of the Secretary of State’s lobbyist page showed why: cities and counties are divided on the bill, with Boulder supporting and Commerce City opposing, for example; and Boulder County in support and Douglas County opposed.
Fenberg noted that special districts are in the bill because the association requested it.
Fenberg also addressed the angst of those who testified about the concealed weapons language. “Their anxiety is why the bill is important. We all live in different communities. Firearms play a different role in our lives and that should be appreciated and respected, and that’s what this bill intends to do.”
The issue of crossing boundaries is already protected in state law, Fenberg claimed, and would not infringe on someone’s ability to have a gun in their car.
“This is not the last debate we will have on firearms and the Second Amendment. This bill helps that debate be a little more nuanced and a little more localized. I know what my community will do” if this becomes law, and it won’t be the same as what other communities will do.
SB 256 passed on a party-line 3-2 vote and now heads to the full Senate.