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Guns would be banned in variety of places in Colorado under new Democratic bill

Handguns are for sale at Rocky Mountain Pawn and Gun Shop in Durango. (Durango Herald file)

Colorado gun owners would be barred from carrying firearms in a wide array of public places in the state, under a Democratic bill recently introduced at the state Capitol.

Senate Bill 131 would require people to leave their guns behind when they visit a long list of locations, including government buildings, hospitals, churches, and other places of worship, bars, public parks, rec centers, zoos, and political rallies and demonstrations. It would apply to both concealed and open carry.

“Right now we have too many shootings. We have too many people being victims and being killed in so many different areas of the state,” said Democratic Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis of Longmont, one of the bill’s main sponsors.

The bill does have some opt-out provisions. Communities would be allowed to lift some of the bill’s restrictions, but only if local voters agree. In the case of houses of worship, it would be up to the leaders of those organizations whether to enforce a gun ban.

“We sold a lot of guns during COVID,” Jaquez Lewis said. “There’s a lot of guns everywhere. And if we go ahead and designate, ‘These are the places where really we should not have firearms and other places you can,’ that is really all we’re saying.”

Opponents say the bill is unconstitutional, and that it’s irresponsible to prevent gun owners from carrying firearms in that many areas.

“It’s easier to tell you where it’s not banned than where it is,” said Taylor Rhodes of SB-131. Rhodes heads Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a grassroots organization that pushes for Second Amendment rights in Colorado.

He said enacting more gun-free zones will leave good people as sitting ducks in the event of a shooting.

Rhodes said he personally carries a firearm every Sunday at church, which he said makes him feel more secure. He worries very few church leaders would be willing to opt out, even if they wanted to, because of liability concerns.

“I think it’s going to scare a lot of pastors into saying, ‘Well, this is the law. We're going to have to comply with it,’” he said.

Despite his opposition, Rhodes said he won’t be putting a lot of energy into galvanizing the grassroots to come to the Capitol to testify about the legislation. Instead, he said he’s prepared to sue, should it become law.

RMGO is already part of multiple lawsuits against the state over several of its recent gun laws, including the requirement that people be 21 or older for gun purchases, as well as the state’s new three-day waiting period gun purchases, and its ban on constructing or possessing what are known as “ghost guns.”

At the statehouse, Republican lawmakers believe the Democrats are ignoring court precedent by pushing bills like SB-131.

“I just can’t see the courts saying ‘That falls in line with the Second Amendment,’ or falls in line with Colorado’s constitutional version of the Second Amendment,” said Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta of the bill.

After years of political and policy setbacks, groups like RMGO see the courts as a fruitful path forward for gun rights, largely because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision in 2022. The 6-3 ruling struck down a century-old New York law requiring a license to carry a handgun in public and set a new constitutional standard all state and federal gun laws must meet.

“(The) government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” wrote Justice Clarence Thomas in the decision. “Only if a firearm regulation is consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition may a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s ‘unqualified command.’”

Jaquez Lewis said she thinks her proposal to restrict where people can carry firearms will pass the Bruen test because the decision said prohibitions on firearms in sensitive places, such as schools and government buildings, meet the historical tradition standard.

“So we have strong legal standing there,” she said. “That’s why we feel like we can do that.”

But others counter that the definition in her bill is much too broad and far-sweeping and would significantly curtail the rights of gun owners.

While Democrats hold a wide majority in both chambers of the Legislature, the bill’s first hurdle will be in the Senate Judiciary Committee where the party only holds a one-vote edge.

To read more stories from Colorado Public Radio, visit www.cpr.org.

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