Gun storage debate returns to Capitol
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER ” In the wake of Columbine, state lawmakers rejected a proposal requiring gun owners to safely store their weapons to keep them out of the hands of children. Eight years later, they’re considering a scaled-down version that doesn’t say how people have to store their firearms but would still hold them accountable if a child ends up bringing the gun to school or hurting or killing someone.
The proposal, set to get its first hearing Monday, would also require gun dealers to provide a written warning that adults must keep their guns out of the hands of children or risk being charged with a misdemeanor and being fined between $50 and $1,000. The warning would also have to be posted at the entrances to gun shows.
The measure (Senate Bill 49) has over a dozen exemptions. Adults wouldn’t be punished if a minor took a firearm to defend their home from an intruder, used the gun in self-defense or used the gun while hunting or in an organized competition, for example. And while the bill doesn’t require a set method for keeping firearms secure, any adult who puts the firearm in a safe or uses a trigger lock couldn’t be charged under the bill.
A safe storage bill was one of five gun law changes proposed in 2000 by then Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, and Attorney General Ken Salazar, a Democrat, because of the Columbine shooting. The Republican-led Legislature passed two measures but rejected the safe storage bill as well as requiring background checks for people buying firearms from unlicensed dealers at gun shows and raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21. Voters later approved an amendment requiring the gun show background checks.
Tom Mauser, whose son was killed at Columbine, said he started working last year to build support for another safe storage bill. Sen. Sue Windels, D-Arvada, said she began working with the coalition after learning that a 1998 study of teen suicide in Colorado recommended that guns be kept out of reach of teens. The bill states that 108 minors have committed suicide using firearms in Colorado since 2000.
Windels said she also plans to change the proposal so that it would only apply to cases where 16 or 17-year-olds accessed guns. She said prosecutors have been able to charge adults with child abuse for negligently giving children under 16 easy access to guns but there is no equivalent charge for cases involving those over 16.
Windels said the fliers and signs are also important and will help educate gun owners.
“It just makes them stop and think, ‘How am I going to store this gun?'” Windels said.
The bill is supported by the American Hunters and Shooters Association but opposed by other gun groups, including the National Rifle Association, the Firearms Coalition of Colorado and the Colorado State Shooting Association.
Darin Goens, the NRA’s Colorado lobbyist, called it the “burglar protection bill” because, if it passed, he said most owners would probably lock up their guns to comply but then be unable to get to their guns quickly to defend their homes.
“If you’re in the business of doing home invasions, then this is the perfect bill for you,” he said.
Mauser, the president of Colorado Ceasefire, said home invasions are rare and needs to be weighed against the danger posed by guns.
“What’s more important is to protect our kids and to protect our schools for that matter,” he said.
Bob Ricker, a spokesman for American Hunters and Shooters, which sees itself as an alternative to the NRA, pointed out that the NRA backed a safe storage bill in California in 1991. Goens acknowledged that but said that group was trying to head off legislation in a more liberal state that would have been even worse.
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