AR-15s in a booth at SHOT Show 2024
AR-15s in a booth at SHOT Show 2024 / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: Will Colorado Ban ‘Assault Weapons’ This Year? [Member Exclusive]

Gun-control advocates in the Centennial State hit a new milestone this week by getting an “assault weapon” ban passed out of a House committee. Whether that momentum will translate into law, however, remains quite murky.

On a 7-3 party-line vote, House Democrats advanced HB24-1292 out of the Judiciary Committee and onto the floor early Wednesday morning after a marathon hearing that lasted more than 14 hours and saw more than 600 people testify on the bill.

That marked the first time a sales ban on AR-15s and other semi-automatic firearms has ever passed out of a committee in Colorado’s history. It is also a quick reversal of fortune for AR-15 ban supporters since a similar measure died just last year in the same committee when multiple Democrats crossed over to vote against it alongside Republicans.

With the wind at their backs and near supermajority control of the state legislature, on paper, Colorado Democrats appear to have their best opportunity yet to make the state the eleventh in the nation to adopt a ban on sales of popular guns. But significant hurdles remain.

Here’s a look at the road ahead for supporters of the gun ban effort.

Colorado House

The state House offers the best venue for the ban bill’s continued success. Democrats control the chamber 46-19, and it is considered the more progressive body of the Colorado General Assembly.

Additionally, House Democrats have maneuvered to give the bill the best possible odds of success on its journey out of the chamber. House leadership shuffled the makeup of the Judiciary Committee heading into this legislative session, removing all but one of the House Democrats who voted against last year’s effort.

House Bill 1292’s sponsors also voluntarily amended the bill during its first hearing Tuesday to help fast-track it to the supermajority-controlled House floor. As initially introduced, the bill contained civil penalties of up to $500,000 for violators rather than criminal penalties. That would have forced the bill to make a stop in the House Finance committee before it could receive a floor vote. That’s important because it is a much more narrowly Democratic-controlled committee, and it also just so happens to feature two of the Democrats who helped sink last year’s ban effort.

Instead, they amended the bill to include criminal penalties of up to ten days in jail for violators of the weapons ban, allowing it to go directly to a body where supporters can afford to lose a few moderate-district “no” votes. Once brought up, it’s difficult to see the measure failing to pass out of the House.

Colorado Senate

In contrast, the state Senate is the most significant near-term roadblock for proponents of the ban.

While it is still safely in Democratic hands by a 23-12 margin, its members are considered more moderate. They may be less eager to take up something as controversial as an outright ban on the sale of popular firearms. Notably, the House-led bill still lacks a single Senate co-sponsor, though the Denver Post has reported that some senators have expressed interest in signing on.

Even if a Senator does come forward to add their name to the measure, getting it out of committee will be another story. That’s because its likely first stop would be the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Democrats only hold a one-member advantage. With Republicans unanimously opposing the proposal, the defection of a single Democratic committee member would be enough to sink the bill yet again.

Furthermore, the committee’s Vice Chair, Dylan Roberts (D.), represents part of Colorado’s more rural Western Slope and has shown a willingness to buck some of his party’s gun-control efforts in the past. He voted against last year’s measure to raise the minimum age to buy firearms in the state as well as the state’s new law allowing citizens to sue gun businesses for third-party criminality. While he has not yet given a definitive position on the assault weapon ban, it is safe to say that getting his support on the bill will not be a slam dunk.

Governor’s Office

Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D.) is the final hurdle for supporters of the ban, and he represents something of a wildcard on the issue. His office didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether he’d sign such a ban, and he has a mixed record on the issue.

While there is some indication that he is against the current effort to ban broad categories of commonly owned firearms, he has not publicly taken a definitive stance either way. As a member of Congress representing Boulder in 2013, Polis took a firm stance against such bans.

“I believe it would make it harder for Colorado families to defend themselves and also interfere with the recreational use of guns by law-abiding Coloradans,” Polis told The Denver Post at the time. “If we want to reduce violence, we should invest in improving our schools to ensure that young people have jobs and do not turn to gangs, crime or violence of any form, and improving access to mental health services.”

Just five years later, however, he signed on to a renewed U.S. House ban proposal as a co-sponsor shortly after the Parkland shooting.

“As our communities have experienced more and more mass shootings, we cannot ignore the fact that assault weapons are a common theme in almost all of them,” Polis told The Post.

During his initial run for Governor later that year, he again attempted to carve out a moderate lane on the gun issue compared with his Democratic primary opponents. And throughout his tenure in the Governor’s office since then, he has never advocated for a ban, even as he has been willing to sign roughly a dozen other gun-control measures into law.

In recent months, he has largely deflected from saying what he would do if a ban reached his desk while simultaneously questioning the wisdom of using political capital to pursue one in light of the Supreme Court’s 2022 Bruen decision.

“We have not yet even succeeded in being able to raise the age limit to (purchase guns in Colorado to) 21,” he told The Colorado Sun last fall, referring to a federal court decision blocking the state’s under-21 gun ban, when asked about the possibility of an assault weapon ban.

None of that means a ban is impossible. Given the state’s balance of power and the way that assault weapon bans have become Democratic-party orthodoxy in recent years, that could be enough for progressives to continue building support for the bill to get it across the finish line.

On the other hand, the more moderate Democrats do not have the same appetite for the issue that gun-control advocates and their safe-district counterparts do. Despite the state’s blue-trending political trajectory, that could be enough to doom the ban.

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