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Colorado bill would ban sale, transfer of assault weapons

State Sen. Rhonda Fields shares her experience of losing a son to gun violence during a gun prevention town hall at First Baptist Church in Denver on Feb. 8, 2023.

Two Colorado lawmakers introduced a long-awaited bill that would ban the sale and transfer of assault weapons in the state.

House Bill 23-1230 is sponsored by Rep. Elisabeth Epps of Denver and Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora. It has seven co-sponsors in the House, including Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon, and one co-sponsor in the Senate.

Missing from the bill is Democratic Rep. Andrew Boesenecker of Fort Collins, who was listed as a main sponsor in earlier leaked drafts of the bill.

Possession would not be prohibited.

“Assault weapons in civilian hands endanger Colorado’s streets, stores, restaurants, places of worship, music venues, schools, movie theaters and communities at large. With an assault weapon, even a firearms novice can perpetrate a mass-casualty incident,” the bill text says.

The bill defines assault weapons based on features and does not name specific makes and models of firearms. An assault weapon would be defined as a semi-automatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and has one or more of the following features:

  • A pistol grip or other feature that could function as a grip for the non-trigger hand.
  • A folding, telescoping, detachable or thumbhole stock that works to make the firearm smaller in order to conceal it.
  • A flash suppressor.
  • A functional grenade launcher.
  • A shroud attached to the barrel.
  • A threaded barrel.

The bill also defines an assault weapon as a semi-automatic pistol with features similar to those described above, semi-automatic rifle that has a fixed large-capacity magazine, a semi-automatic rifle that can accept a belt ammunition feeding device, shotguns with a revolving cylinder or a .50-caliber rifle.

The ban doesn’t apply to a firearm made permanently inoperable, an antique from before 1899, a replica of an antique and a firearm that can only fire rimfire ammunition. It also doesn’t apply to a firearm that is manually operated by a bolt, pump, lever or slide action.

Military, police and businesses that operate armored vehicles would be exempt from the ban.

‘Civil war!’

If passed, individual violators could be fined $1,000 for each violation between July 1, 2023, and Dec. 31, 2024, and $5,000 for each violation thereafter. Licensed gun dealers would face civil penalties of $250,000 for the first violation and $500,000 for the second violation.

Gun rights groups and conservative politicians were quick to criticize the legislation after it was introduced.

“Gun bans, like this, are a direct infringement of both the United States and Colorado Constitutions and have been shown to have no positive effect on crime rates or deterrence of mass shootings. Additionally, this so-called ‘assault weapons’ ban senselessly turns thousands of law-abiding Colorado business owners into criminals for simply attempting to sell a firearm with features arbitrarily deemed scary by out-of-touch Democrats,” Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Executive Director Taylor Rhodes said in a statement.

Rep. Ryan Armagost, a Republican from Berthoud, tweeted that the bill comes from two legislators – Epps and Fields – who “know nothing about firearms as you can read in the bill text, and care nothing about our rights as gun owners, manufacturers, or dealers.”

One day after the bill was introduced, Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta tweeted a photo of himself using a firearm, writing “Come and take it! They’ll have to invade the West Slope and murder us if they intend on us being defenceless! We will NOT bow to tyrants and those who seek to disarms us need to be prepared for civil war!” He apologized to his House colleagues Monday morning for his word choice.

Nine states currently have some kind of assault weapons ban: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, along with Washington, D.C.

The assault weapons ban bill comes after Democrats introduced a suite of bills aimed at preventing gun violence. It is not part of that package, which includes bills to strengthen the state’s extreme risk protection order law, impose a three-day waiting period for firearm sales, increase the minimum age for firearm purchases and make it easier to sue gun manufacturers.

It now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.