Mar 19, 2021 | NEWS | By Lily Weaver | Illustration by Xixi Qin
Content Warning: This article discusses suicide and self-harm.
On March 9, 2021, the Democrat-controlled Colorado House of Representatives advanced legislation requiring firearms to be securely stored to prevent unauthorized youth and other people from accessing them.
The final vote in the House was contentious at 40-25, virtually along party lines. Twelve states currently have laws requiring the safe storage of firearms, and the one proposed for Colorado is pitched as a way to reduce suicide rates among teens and deflected as “denied defense.”
Massachusetts is the only state that requires that all firearms be stored with a lock in place. Connecticut, New York, and California impose gun locking requirements in certain situations.
Republicans voiced strong concerns about the bill during the House debate, spending roughly 10 hours opposing the bill, arguing that it violates the Second Amendment by restricting when firearm users can use their weapons.
Since the bill passed through the House, it will now go to the Democrat-majority Senate before it arrives at Gov. Jared Polis’ desk for approval. If the measure passes, a firearm’s unlawful storage would be considered a misdemeanor and carry a fine between $250 and $1000.
The bill, which will take effect in July if it passes, requires licensed gun dealers to provide a locking device when selling or transferring firearms. The consequence of failing to comply would be a misdemeanor and a fine of up to $500.
Two of the bill’s sponsors, Democratic Reps. Kyle Mullica and Monica Duran, are hopeful that the proposal will reduce accidental firearm homicide and suicide among youth. Rep. Mullica addressed the concerns that the measure would limit gun rights by emphasizing a portion of the bill that states safe storage does not apply if the firearm is on or near an owner who can, according to the bill, “readily retrieve and use the firearm.”
Additionally, Rep. Duran said that states with similar laws regulating gun storage in households with minors had a 13% reduction of deaths caused by firearms in children under fifteen.
In contrast to the Democratic representatives’ views on the new gun storage bill, Republican Rep. Mark Baisley provided his own commentary by saying the legislation is a “misplaced solution” to youth suicide prevention.
Patrick Neville, another GOP representative, even brought his own firearm locking device to show how long it takes to unlock and load a gun, agreeing with other Republicans in calling the bill “denied defense.” They argued that quick access to a firearm in instances of home invasions and domestic violence could be a matter of life or death.
The former police officer and Republican Rep. Shane Sandridge verbalized these concerns by saying, “I’m afraid that this bill will cost lives. If you know about weapons and you know about hazard situations — you know you need quick access, easy access.”
House Republicans argued that firearm education is the best way to prevent their misuse. However, a portion of the bill requires that the state health department’s Office of Suicide Prevention create an education campaign addressing Colorado’s gun safety rules, including safe storage.
The office is currently working with the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition, including local retailers, safety instructors, range owners, and prevention professionals to ensure that people who are authorized to use firearms are using them responsibly.
The office and safety coalition have developed community-based options for temporary and voluntary gun storage with police departments and gun retailers.
The Democratic-majority House of Representatives ultimately deemed it more pressing to pass the bill to prevent suicide than primarily Republican concerns about preserving aspects of the Second Amendment.
According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, restricting access to lethal suicide methods like firearms can help reduce suicide rates and increase the chances that the person will delay or survive a suicide attempt.
The gun storage bill would make immediate access to firearms more difficult. A 2017 study analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System reported that across the U.S., about 19 children die or are medically treated for a gunshot wound each day.
The report also found that Western states, such as Colorado, had some of the highest rates of suicides by firearms among youth. The gun storage bill also noted that between 2009 and 2019, there were about 31 Colorado teens and young adults under 20 who were involved in suicides by firearms each year.
Although the bill caused tensions across party lines in the Colorado House of Representatives, it is hoped that it will decrease suicide and homicide rates caused by firearms. Colorado remains a state where local governments have limited control over the open carry of firearms, and no purchase permits or firearm registration are required for handguns.