A busy week at the Capitol was followed by a Saturday townhall meeting in Durango. An unprecedented number of people turned out for the annual forum hosted by the League of Women Voters, with many familiar faces in attendance.
It was clear early on that a principal concern for many who attended is the proposed gun control bills now coming to the Senate after passage in the House.
As with all bills, the devil is in the details, meaning that while the shorthand reference to a bill doesn’t really tell you much until you read the bill. This is especially important with these four bills, as it is the details of each bill that are causing so much alarm.
For example, on the ban of concealed handguns on campus, I’ve received a lot of input as to what this will translate to for those students relying on this form of personal protection. I was visited by the father of a young woman who was raped at the age of 12. The rapist threatened retaliation at his sentencing saying, once released, he would kill his victim and her family. The dad was distraught and visibly shaken as he told me his fears of the unintended consequences of the ban, now that his daughter is a college student and the release of the rapist is imminent.
Another compelling story against the concealed carry ban came from a woman whose mother was brutually murdered by the last man executed in Colorado. Having seen her mother abducted from their yard, this woman believes strongly in the need for meaningful self-defense, including on college campuses.
Victims and their families are learning of the bill and trying to be heard, but they fear the speed of the passage of these bills will inhibit that from happening.
I stand by my earlier recommendation that, rather than pass the House bills now before us, we should, with bipartisan support, send the matter of improved public safety with a focus on the interplay of violence and compromised mental health, to the Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice for immediate consideration.
The Commission should look at the issues raised by the recent tragedies to propose evidence-based improvements to public safety. The Commission’s chairman is the head of Colorado’s Department of Public Safety, who oversaw the aftermath of the Aurora shooting. The Commission is a diverse mix of professionals who, most importantly, are out in the field protecting Colorado’s citizens. They include law enforcement and those involved with our mental health services and addictions recovery. Since our jails and prisons have become de facto mental health treatment facilities, these are precisely the people best able to help inform proposals for change.
The key to the legislative passage of most of the Commission’s past recommendations for criminal justice reform has been putting in the necessary hard work and time to achieve change that’s productive and concrete.
Colorado’s sheriffs and others charged with law enforcement have stated that the bills will be unenforceable and inadequate in stopping gun violence from those mentally unstable. Legitimate concerns and true debate of alternative approaches deserve to see the light of day rather than be trampled in a rush to pass laws that fail to better protect Coloradans from those who actually cause the tragic harm.