Colorado law since 2013 has required most people who are charged with domestic violence to relinquish their guns, but prosecutors and court officials acknowledge it’s loosely enforced, sometimes not at all.
Lawmakers got their first look Tuesday at a bill, HB21-1255, that would strengthen compliance, which state analysts say affects thousands per year.
Already, Democrats who control the Colorado legislature have sent two gun bills to Gov. Jared Polis to sign, which he is expected to do soon. One requires secure storage of firearms and the other mandates that lost or stolen firearms be reported, both of which were in the works before the mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers last month.
Attorney General Phil Weiser told lawmakers during a hearing that they must pass this third piece of gun legislation, because domestic violence is a crisis in Colorado, citing a statistic that of the 70 domestic violence-related deaths in 2019, two-thirds were due to a gun.
“These deaths are the tip of an iceberg,” he said. “There are ripple effects because every death leaves a legacy of pain and trauma.”
The bill cleared its first House committee in a 7-4 vote, with all Democrats in support and all Republicans opposed.
A main objection from GOP lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins, is that while the bill is admirable in sentiment it won’t reduce deaths or domestic violence overall. Republican Rep. Terri Carver of Colorado Springs said she has worked with women who’ve suffered abuse, but still expressed concerns about implementing the bill.
Under the proposal, a person who is subject to a civil protection order because of alleged domestic violence has a week to provide a statement about how many and what type of firearms are in their possession, and where those guns are located. A judge can order that person to relinquish all guns before he or she is released from jail or within 24 hours after release.
Legislative analysts expect the possible law could apply to up to about 12,000 people per year.
“Domestic violence is a much more common problem than people realize,” said Wheat Ridge Democratic Rep. Monica Duran, who is a sponsor of the bill.
“This is a pain that I know very personally,” said Duran, a domestic violence survivor. She said her abuser would sometimes threaten her with a gun and that she lived in daily fear until finally telling loved ones about the abuse — something she hopes this bill will encourage others to do.
A few people testified against the bill, questioning whether seizing guns would limit violent acts by people who may also have access to other types of weapons.
Academics countered during their testimony that research clearly domestic abusers are less likely to commit any act of violence overall when they do not have access to firearms. The Giffords Law Center states that domestic abusers with access to a firearm are five times more likely to kill their victims.
This policy has long been on Democrats’ legislative wish list, and likely would have passed last year had the bill not been delayed during in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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