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Colorado senators hope passage of gun safety bill spurs further action

Legislation would expand background checks for 18- to 21-year-olds, provide incentives to states that pass red flag laws
Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet

WASHINGTON – With the passage Thursday night of a gun safety bill, Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper are hopeful the legislation spurs further action from the federal government.

While neither senator was part of a bipartisan group of 20 senators to negotiate the deal, both Democrats said they are encouraged by the bill as a step toward addressing gun violence in the country and hope further action comes from it.

“I think it’s a great first step,” Hickenlooper told The Durango Herald on Thursday, before the Senate voted on the bill. “Obviously, I don’t think it solves all of the issues.”

Hickenlooper pointed to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board’s efforts to reduce traffic fatalities, saying a similar approach should be used by the federal government in its effort to reduce gun deaths.

“They’ve been working for 50 years, basically lowered the highway fatalities by 60%,” he said. “Why don’t we have some way of getting all that same energy and effort to study on lowering gun deaths, and I’m not talking about taking away guns or registering guns or any of that. Just gathering information for all of the suicides we have, from all of the mass shootings we have, put all that together. The question is, how do you get the facts, that we all have the same set of facts?”

The bill next heads to the U.S. House, which is expected to vote on the measure before Congress goes into a two-week recess.

The bill, named the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, is the nation’s most significant set of federal gun laws in almost three decades. If it becomes law, the legislation would close the “boyfriend loophole,” which would prohibit people convicted of domestic abuse from owning a gun. Currently, the law applies only to people who have been married to, have a child with or live with the victim.

Additionally, it would expand background checks on people younger than 21 who want to buy a gun in order to include mental health and juvenile justice records. It would also extend the waiting period for people younger than 21 from three days to 10 days.

The bill would also incentivize states to pass red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, which permit authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from people the court believes to be a danger to themselves or others. In Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis signed a red flag law that took effect in January 2020.

“In the 12 years I’ve been coming down here talking about this, I’ve challenged people, I’ve said, ‘Come tell me why Colorado’s not safer with (red flag laws) in place,’ and there’s nobody who ever comes here and says, ‘Here’s why you’re not safer,’ because obviously we are safer,” said Bennet, during a speech on the Senate floor on Thursday.

Additionally, the bill would provide funding for expanding mental health resources in schools and communities as well as for increasing school safety.

The past decade in Colorado has seen the passage of several laws aimed at addressing gun violence in the state. Some of the recent laws include universal background checks, magazine capacity restrictions, safe storage requirements and some restrictions on owning a gun for some domestic violence offenders, for example.

“I live in a Western state,” Bennet said during his speech Thursday. “As you’ll hear, we’ve been able to enact meaningful gun reforms in my state. If we can make progress in a western state like Colorado, where people are demanding it, Democrats, independents and Republicans and most important of all our children, are demanding it, we can do it here.”

Hickenlooper said having senators on the same page when it comes to gun violence is how change is made.

“When you all work from the same set of facts, you can make some real progress, and hopefully we will take a measure of the facts so that we make sure that these things are really doing what we want them to do,” he said.

Nina Heller is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at nheller@durangoherald.com.

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