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Bill to ban guns in Colorado Capitol, schools approved by state Senate


Bill to ban guns in Colorado Capitol, schools approved by state Senate

Apr 03, 2024 | 4:34 pm ET
By Sara Wilson
Bill to ban guns in Colorado Capitol, schools approved by state Senate
The Colorado Senate meets during a special legislative session on Nov. 20, 2023. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)

The Colorado Senate gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would ban firearms from government buildings, including the state Capitol, schools, colleges, courthouses and polling locations.

The “sensitive spaces” legislation passed on a 21-14 vote, with two Democrats joining Republicans in opposition.

“This legislation is about the lives that we’ve lost and the lives we can save,” bill sponsor Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, a Longmont Democrat, said. “This bill is about protecting our colleagues from threats and intimidation in this building. We have seen frequent, tragic incidents of gun violence in places that deserve to be safe from the threat of violence. If there is no gun present, there is no gun violence.”

As introduced, Senate Bill 24-131 would have prohibited firearms, concealed or otherwise, from 19 specified locations, such as public parks, protests, bars, places of worship, recreation centers and government buildings. There are exceptions for law enforcement officers and security personnel.

Sponsors narrowed the bill significantly in committee to include only all types of schools — from preschool to college — courthouses, polling places, the state Capitol and local government buildings, though local governments could opt out.

Additionally, the bill’s title was amended to reflect that the ban would be limited to places “recognized by the United States Supreme Court” as having a historical precedent of firearm prohibitions, a nod to the shadow of the 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen over any potential gun legislation.

“The Bruen (and) Heller Supreme Court decisions list sensitive spaces where firearms should not be allowed, but the court made it clear: This is not an exhaustive list,” Jaquez Lewis said.

If there is no gun present, there is no gun violence.

– Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis

Sen. Chris Kolker, the bill’s other sponsor, said the amendments narrowed the bill’s focus but aligned with his “main goal” to keep firearms out of higher education.

“Reflecting on my time as a history teacher, I’ve taught lessons on significant events that defined our society, often marked by violence. This bill represents our collective effort to forge a new narrative in our history,” the Centennial Democrat said.

Those amendments pushed the bill out of committee and onto the Senate floor, but they did not win over any Republicans. Senators debated the bill for nearly five hours Tuesday, and Republicans offered a series of failed floor amendments to remove schools, college campuses and the Capitol from the bill.

“I believe a ‘no’ vote is morally the proper thing to do, because it is wrong to legislate people into victims and to disallow them from having the right to self defense,” Sen. Kevin Van Winkle, a Highlands Ranch Republican, said on Wednesday.

“It’s become clear time and time again that gun free zones and absolute bans on firearms are ineffective, and criminals carry weapons regardless of legality,” he said. “Worse, gun free zones are uniquely attractive targets to evildoers because a monopoly of force is in the hands of whoever is willing to break the law, and the police response is often too late.”

Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Parker Republican who spoke at length during the debate, contended that a firearm ban at the Capitol is largely unenforceable. The Colorado Constitution states that legislators cannot be questioned or arrested while they are traveling to or in the building for General Assembly business.

Lawmakers are currently allowed to carry concealed weapons into the Capitol, though members of the public are not. In 2022, a state representative’s gun fell out of his pants and onto the floor outside the House chamber. In 2014, a lawmaker left his gun unattended in a committee room.

Jaquez Lewis questioned why state legislators should be above the law.

Democratic Reps. Kevin Priola of Henderson and Nick Hinrichsen of Pueblo voted against the bill.

SB-131 now heads to the House, where it will be carried by Democratic Reps. Kyle Brown of Louisville and Mandy Lindsay of Aurora.

The bill is one of several Democrat-backed firearm measures this session. Also under consideration are bills to revamp concealed carry permit requirements, mandate secure storage for firearms in vehicles, and prohibit semi-automatic rifles. None have made it to the governor’s desk so far.

The legislative session ends on May 8.