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House panel advances bill allowing local governments to pass stricter gun laws

Pat Poblete - Denver Gazette  | Published on 6/9/2021

A House panel on Monday advanced a bill seeking to lift the state's ban on local governments passing stricter gun laws than those that exist in state law over objections from Republican lawmakers.

What’s more, the House State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee approved Senate Bill 256 without amendments, setting the stage for it to head straight to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk should it clear the House chamber unamended.

The bill is one of a trio introduced in response to the mass shooting 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, something several of the witnesses who provided testimony took note of.

The bill’s sponsors, Democratic Reps. Edie Hooton of Boulder and Lindsey Daugherty of Arvada, framed their effort as chiefly a matter of empowering local communities to take steps to prevent gun violence.

“There's a strong ethos of local control in Colorado and a belief that decisions should be made by those closest to the impact,” Hooton said, describing the bill as a “well-balanced and reasonable approach that empowers local leaders to act in the best interest of their communities.”

According to Daugherty, “gun violence and gun suicide are not a one-size-fits-all problem.”

“Local public servants should be empowered to address these issues with local solutions,” she said.

But Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, countered that if the bill were truly a local control effort, it would allow communities to loosen regulations on guns beyond the laws set by the state.

“I don't think this is about just local control, it's more about gun control,” he said in expressing opposition to the bill.

The hearing before the State, Civic, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee was a far more subdued affair than its counterpart before a Senate committee earlier this month.Senate panel advances pre-emption gun bill; Lauren Boebert among those testifying against

That hearing drew some 50 witnesses to testify before the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, including opposition testimony from U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Silt. By comparison, the witness list for the House hearing cut that figure in half.

Testimony on the bill over the course of the near three hour hearing alternated between supporters and opponents of the measure. Supporters, who outnumbered opposition, came largely from organizations dedicated to combatting gun violence and praised the bill as a step toward that end.

Backers of the measure included public officials from the city and county of Boulder as well as Joel Loomis, a CU Boulder student and employee at the King Soopers where the shooting took place.

Opponents raised concerns on a number of issues, including the worry that the law would create a patchwork of different regulations. That patchwork, opponents said, would make criminals out of otherwise law-abiding gun owners simply for passing through a jurisdiction with different regulations than their own

“This bill sets up responsible gun owners to break laws they don't even know exist,” said Leslie Hollywood, the executive director of Rally for our Rights.

Daugherty earlier in the hearing highlighted an amendment added by the Senate aimed at alleviating those concerns. Under that amendment, local laws and regulations would only be able to impose a criminal penalty on a person “who knew or reasonably should have known that the person's conduct was prohibited.”

“If a person didn't know they were breaking the law, they cannot be charged with a criminal penalty,” Daugherty said.

On top of that, she also highlighted a provision in state law prohibiting local ordinances from inhibiting a person's ability to travel with a weapon.

After advancing through the panel on a 7-4 party-line vote, the bill now heads to the House floor for debate before the full chamber.