Mike Johnston: Saving lives through gun safety in Colorado
Nineteen years ago, students walked into Columbine High School for a regular day at school. What happened next was, at the time, the worst school shooting in American history. Today, if you go to the Columbine Memorial, it has a quote carved into granite that reads, “(This day) brought the nation to its knees, but now that we’ve gotten back up, how have things changed?” That is the question that haunts us today.
I will tell you what has changed. Nineteen years later, the Columbine massacre no longer ranks even in the top 10 of deadliest mass shootings in America. And three of the worst five have all happened in the past 18 months. Politicians in Washington are already saying there is nothing we can do. Well, there is something we can do, we just have to have the courage to do it.
I grew up on the Western Slope of Colorado and have been a gun owner my entire life. But as a gun owner, I never knew someone who needed a hundred-round magazine to shoot an elk, or a bump stock to defend their home.
That’s why when I was in the state Senate, I was the sponsor of legislation to ban magazines over 15 rounds and to require background checks on every gun sale anywhere in Colorado, to anyone, at any time.
I believe Colorado can lead the country in preventing gun violence and also respecting the Second Amendment rights of law -abiding citizens. Our campaign has called for Colorado to take a stand #4NoMore unnecessary gun deaths. Our proposal identifies four things the country can do if we want to get serious about stopping gun violence.
First, we must bring other states and the federal government together to get military-style weapons off the streets, which means banning the high-capacity magazines that are used to kill so many people so quickly. I led the charge to ban them in Colorado when I was in the state Senate, and we must now fight to bring that standard to the rest of the country.
Second, we must ensure that everyone is subject to a background check before they acquire a weapon. Again, I led the way here in Colorado in 2013, but as long as other states lag behind, we are all at risk. We must push other states to improve their background checks while also fighting efforts to pass concealed carry reciprocity laws, which would force other states’ lax regulations onto Colorado.
Third, we must ban bump stocks, the tools that turn regular weapons into machine guns. There is a reason we have outlawed automatic weapons as a nation, and as governor, I’ll close this back door.
Fourth, I’ll create gun violence restraining orders in Colorado. These allow a family member, teacher or law enforcement official to identify someone who is dangerously mentally ill or making verified threats and ensure they do not have access to guns until they are no longer a danger to themselves or others. These follow the same process as domestic violence restraining orders, ensuring due process and protecting those who are at risk.
These four steps would have gone a long way toward preventing the mass shootings in Parkland, Las Vegas, Aurora, Orlando, Newtown and many others.
The kids who survived the Columbine shooting in 1999 are now parents, and they have kids of their own who they are dropping off at middle schools and high schools across Colorado. We owe them the promise that their kids can go to school, or the movies, or concerts, without fearing for their lives. We owe them the commitment that when the world gets up off of its knees this time, everything will have changed.
Mike Johnston is a Democratic candidate for governor of Colorado. He served two terms in the state Senate and is a former public school teacher and principal. He lives in Denver with his wife and three kids.
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