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Colorado House passes bill banning sale of so-called assault weapons

House Bill 1292 faces an uncertain fate in the Senate
An AR-15 style rifle is displayed at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop on July 26, 2012, in Aurora. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press file)

The Colorado House of Representatives on Sunday passed a bill that would ban the purchase, sale and transfer of a broad swath of semiautomatic firearms, defined in the measure as assault weapons. The legislation now faces an uncertain fate in the Senate.

House Bill 1292 passed 35-27, mostly along party lines, with three representatives excused.

Republicans in the chamber voted uniformly against the measure. They were joined by nine Democrats, mostly from swing districts, including Reps. Meghan Lukens of Steamboat Springs, Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs, Bob Marshall of Highlands Ranch and Mary Young of Greeley.

Republicans argued during roughly four hours of debate during a rare Sunday workday at the Capitol that the measure would violate the Second Amendment and that it wouldn’t address the societal causes of mass shootings, like mental health.

“This bill does not address the real issues that we have in our state,” said Rep. Lisa Frizell, a Castle Rock Republican. “It does nothing.”

Democrats said it was a step toward addressing a uniquely American problem, invoking the massacres in Littleton, at Columbine High School; in Aurora, at the Century 16 movie theater; and in Boulder, at the King Sooper’s grocery story in the city’s Table Mesa Neighborhood.

“I don’t believe this bill is going to stop all gun violence,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat. “I don’t believe this bill is going to stop all the crime. But I do believe this bill will help if we also are willing to talk about why people don’t value each other’s lives, how we can talk to young people about trying to solve problems in different ways.”

The bill now heads to the Senate, where it’s unclear if it has enough support to advance to be sent to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk.

Democrats have a 23-12 majority in the Senate, but the chamber is considered far more moderate than the House. The measure didn’t have a main sponsor in the Senate until recently, when Sen. Julie Gonzales, a Denver Democrat, agreed to try to shepherd the legislation forward.

Senate President Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, told The Sun he would vote for a bill banning so-called assault weapons if given the chance. But he doubts the measure will have enough votes to clear the Senate.

“These aren’t my reservations necessarily. (But) it’s difficult, as we’ve seen, to have effective gun violence prevention policies on a state level,” Fenberg said. “Obviously I’m not saying ‘let’s not do anything at the state level, let’s pass it to the feds,’ because we know they’re not going to do anything. But I do think there are legitimate conversations about promising something big to society, knowing that the policy in and of itself isn’t going to produce all those results.”

Fenberg said he hopes the measure would save lives if it passes and is signed into law – which appears improbable – “but I also think we know there’s a lot of assault weapons already out there in people’s hands.”

Colorado State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder, prepares to address fellow lawmakers as the legislative session opens in the Senate chambers Jan. 9, 2023, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press file)

House Bill 1292 doesn’t ban possession of so-called assault weapons, so it wouldn’t reduce the number of guns Coloradans already own.

Fenberg said the majority of his caucus believes “that we shouldn’t have assault weapons out there in the hands of so many people.” But he doesn’t know if that translates to the policy getting across the finish line.

“People who want to do harm are probably still going to be able to find ways to do harm,” Fenberg said. “So I think it’s more nuanced than just simply: Do we have 18 votes to pass an assault weapon bill?”

If the bill – a similar version of which failed in the House last year – somehow does pass the Senate, it will be sent to a skeptical Polis.

“I’ve long been skeptical of discussions around ‘this kind of equipment versus that kind of equipment,’” the Democrat told The Sun in an interview earlier this month. “I think it’s more an issue of making sure our gun safety laws are followed. I think where you can and can’t safely carry guns is a legitimate discussion, as well as making sure that our strong gun laws are enforced.”

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaks before President Joe Biden at CS Wind on Nov. 29 in Pueblo. (Jack Dempsey/Associated Press file)

And then even if Polis signs the bill into law, it’s likely to be met by an immediate lawsuit from Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a hard-line gun rights organization. The group successfully sued last year to block enforcement of Colorado’s new law raising the age to purchase all guns to 21.

RMGO argued that the age-limit measure violated the Second Amendment in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to unwind a New York law requiring a license to carry concealed weapons in public places made it more difficult for states to pass gun control measures.

In that case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, the Supreme Court set a precedent that if a gun statute regulates something that is protected under the plain text of the Second Amendment, then “the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition” for it to be constitutional.

RMGO would almost certainly use the Bruen decision to challenge House Bill 1292 should it be signed into law.


State Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Denver Democrat and main sponsor of House Bill 1292, acknowledged the political uncertainty in a speech Sunday on the House floor.

“I know 100% – 100% certain – the sun is going to rise and I know we are going to ban, prohibit the sale, manufacture, import, etc. of these weapons in Colorado. I know we are,” she said. “What I don’t know is if it’s going to be this bill or if it’s going to be after that next shooting that sets new, terrible records.”

One positive sign for supporters of the measure: Both House Speaker Julie McCluskie, D-Dillon, and House Majority Leader Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, voted “yes” on the measure Sunday. They hadn’t said where they stood on the measure.

House Bill 1292 defines an assault weapons as:

  • A semi-automatic rifle capable of accepting a detachable magazine or of being modified to accept a detachable magazine that also has a pistol grip, muzzle brake, functional grenade or flare launcher, shroud attached to the barrel, threaded barrel, or a folding, telescoping or detachable stock. One or more of those secondary features would make the pistol be defined as an assault weapon under the bill.
  • A semi-automatic pistol that’s capable of accepting a detachable magazine or is capable of being modified to accept a detachable magazine that also has a threaded barrel, second pistol grip, shroud attached to the barrel, a muzzle brake or an arm brace. One or more of those secondary features would make the pistol be defined as an assault weapon under the bill.
  • A semi-automatic shotgun that either has a pistol grip, fixed large-capacity magazine, or a folding telescoping or thumbhole stock. One or more of those secondary features would make the shotgun be defined as an assault weapon under the bill.
  • A .50-caliber rifle.

The bill also defines a long list of specific makes and models of firearms as being assault weapons, including AK-47s, AR-15s, TEC-9s, Beretta Cx4 Storms, Sig Sauer SG550s, MAC-10s, and Derya MK-12s.

Possession of such firearms would still be allowed under the bill, but people would be prohibited from importing them into Colorado.

A row of different AR-15-style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop in Aurora. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press file)

The prohibition wouldn’t apply to members of the military or law enforcement. It also wouldn’t apply when a so-called assault weapon is being transferred to a licensed firearms dealer for temporary storage or permanent disposal, or being transferred to a gunsmith for maintenance or repair. Transferring a so-called assault weapon to an heir would also be allowed.

The measure was amended on the House floor to make the penalty for violating the measure starting in July 2025 a civil penalty carrying a $750 fine. Previously, violating the statute would have constituted a petty offense, which carries a sentence of up to 10 days in jail and/or a fine of up to $300. A petty offense is the lowest level criminal offense in Colorado.

The measure would also ban the possession of rapid-fire trigger activators, which can make a semi-automatic gunfire at a rate similar to an automatic firearm.

Ten states and the District of Columbia have some form of a law banning certain semi-automatic weapons, according to Giffords, an organization that tracks gun policies across the nation. The group is named after former Arizona U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, a Democrat who was nearly killed in a mass shooting.

The 2024 legislative session in Colorado ends May 8.

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.