This week Democratic lawmakers in Colorado held events to bring attention to their efforts to prevent more gun violence and mass shootings ahead of the November election. According to Colorado Democratic Party Executive Director Karin Asensio, gun deaths and injuries have cost Colorado $11.7 billion each year.
Asensio drew a stark contrast between Democrat and Republican positions on gun violence, naming multiple prominent Republican candidates during a press conference Wednesday. “[Treasurer candidate] Lang Sias voted against the red flag bill,” she said. “[Gubernatorial candidate] Heidi Ganahl wants to repeal restrictions on guns. [U.S. Senate candidate] Joe O’Dea wants to arm teachers and is backed by the Colorado NRA. [Congressonal candidate] Erik Aadland has admitted to making his own ghost gun. [Congressional candidate] Barbara Kirkmeyer has consistently voted against gun safety measures. Republicans won’t make us or our children safer. The Colorado GOP under Kristi Burton Brown’s leadership has become more extreme. They are pushing a thorough agenda, including repealing gun safety measures. We must continue to do their work to elect candidates who are in favor of common sense gun laws.”
Colorado Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Rep. Tom Sullivan (D-Littleton) highlighted the newly passed Safe Storage of Firearms Act, which requires that firearms be responsibly and securely stored when they are not in use to prevent access by unsupervised juveniles and other unauthorized users.
“We know that over 75% of all school shooters have acquired their firearm from a family member or an aunt or uncle that was unsecured,” said Sullivan.
Sullivan is facing a challenge from Republican Tom Kim, who received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and appears to oppose the basic gun safety measures Sullivan has pushed into Colorado law.
“We believe that every child deserves a quality education,” said Fields. “It should be done without fear, but yet my four grandchildren are exposed to these drills — active shooter — where they learn how to hide underneath their desks. Sometimes they are taught to go to a corner and huddle. And they’re also taught to fight by maybe throwing a book or whatever they have at someone that might be trying to harm them.”
Fields mentioned the recent school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, and the failure of police to respond to a shooter who killed 19 students and two teachers. “If an active shooter comes to your school, we don’t want to have a situation like we had in Texas where we had 30 or 40 — I don’t know how many — police officers were just standing by a hand sanitizer in the school, just waiting and waiting and waiting,” she said. “Law enforcement, in my view, have the duty to intervene and to protect when there’s active shooting that’s taking place not only in our schools but also in public places.”
Sullivan also highlighted Democratic efforts to improve student mental health. “We just passed legislation that allows children in schools three meetings with a mental health provider,” he said. “That’s free of charge. That is available to each and every one of them.”
Eliza Hamrick, a volunteer for gun violence advocacy group Moms Demand Action and a candidate for Colorado House, mentioned the importance of midterm elections. “We need common sense gun legislation,” she said. “We need to prevent gun violence. Thankfully, we’ve had people like Sen. Fields and Rep. Tom Sullivan and advocates like Maisha Fields and Tom Mauser, who have gotten out and really pushed for common sense gun legislation. But we are one election away from losing all these protections for our students and for our families, for our educators, for our schools, for our communities. All of these successful laws like the ERPA red flag law, like background checks, like safe storage laws. These are statutory, meaning that a legislature that comes in that is not friendly to common sense gun legislation could get rid of all of that.”
Sullivan said that if re-elected he would work to raise the age to purchase assault rifles. “Well, for any gun violence prevention measures to move forward, I need to get elected because without my voice down there, this place is pretty much been mute when it comes to gun violence prevention,” he said. “Should I get elected — and I have spoken about this in the past — we’re looking to raise the minimum wage on the purchase of assault rifles, and that’s that’s been the predominant conversation going across the country.”
Efforts at gun legislation have faced pushback from Republicans and gun enthusiasts. Conservative activist group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners announced on Aug. 18 that they filed lawsuits against Louisville, the city of Boulder and Boulder County over local laws passed to restrict firearm possession and sales.
“Well, it’s really unfortunate,” said Sullivan. “I’m in the business of trying to save lives. Apparently, those on the other side are in the business of litigating, and so that’s what I’m going to continue to work on. I’ll let the lawyers take care of what they need to take care of. I’m going to do everything I can to save lives, make sure that kids and workers go to work, go to school and then come home the same way they did when they left the house.”
On Monday, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) joined Colorado Rep. Jennifer Bacon (D-Denver) at the Struggle of Love Foundation in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood. They were joined by Angel Shabazz, whose son, Davarie Armstrong, was murdered in 2020, and Jason McBride of McBride Impact, an organization that works with at-risk youth.
“When I started this work, my daughters were nine, seven, and four, that’s how old they were,” said Bennet. “My oldest daughter was born the year after the Columbine High School massacre here in Colorado, and they have lived in the shadow of that, in the Aurora movie theater shooting, the STEM school shootings, [and] most recently the Boulder grocery store shooting. I was the superintendent of [Denver Public Schools] and what I could see every time there was a shooting — and it’s not just the mass shootings that you read about, it’s shootings that happen on a daily basis in the United States of America — that our kids, you can just see them, worried that they might be the next one. I don’t think any generation of Americans should have had to grow up the way that our kids have all had to grow up in the hail of gun violence, believing that they could possibly be next.”
Bennet also mentioned his support for the bipartisan Safer Communities Act. “I’m glad we passed this bipartisan bill,” he said. “It was as modest a bill as you could get in terms of gun safety. You’d be hard to write any bill less modest than this, but I’m the first one to say it is the first bill that we’ve been able to pass that overcame the lobbying of the National Rifle Association, who have lobbied all these years, basically in terms of the financial interests of gun manufacturers and not for the American people, and I’m glad we did that. The thing that I’m actually happiest about is not the gun provisions, but there’s $15 billion of mental health money in here for the country, which we desperately need because of COVID and because of other things. It’s a step in the right direction. There is nothing in the time that I’ve been in the Senate more debilitating than sitting there on the floor of the Senate when the parents in the lobby, in the House, up in the gallery, who’ve lost their kids, or when their kids are up in the gallery, who’ve lost their classmates and watched the Senate do nothing. We have finally done something. There’s more for us to do, and some of the things that we’ve done here in Colorado are the things that I think we should do nationally.”
Joel Hodge, founder of Struggle of Love, pointed out that gun violence is part of a series of systemic problems such as poverty, substance abuse, and a lack of affordable housing facing the community in Montbello.
“This issue has been very important to our community in a lot of ways,” responded Bacon. “Gun violence prevention includes all touch points of the criminal justice system. When we talk about everything from profiling to how communities are divested in, when we talk about how our communities build a sense of attachment, where are the places our young people can go to get engaged, to develop their talents? Whether it’s from athletics to arts to academics to engineering, we have to think about what is our community’s role in creating spaces where our young people have the opportunity to bring their best selves and not necessarily content with things that have been created, quite frankly, through intentional disenfranchisement. And so what I really hope to hear today as well as to contribute to is to figure out how we need to dismantle these systems that have really put us in a place of such struggle, but also figure out how we can bring the state or local resources to be able to support our young people and not only staying alive and surviving but to be able to thrive.”
Bacon also noted that communities like Montbello are often not considered when lawmakers attempt to address gun violence. “In the Capitol, they do not talk about our communities as gun violence prevention,” she said. “They talk about suicide. They talk about the mass shootings at the grocery store or the movie theater, and it takes a lot of work, which we’re at a better place now where we have opened the door that the conversation includes here, because unfortunately, to talk about gun violence prevention in our community, they’ve got to take responsibility for a lot of other things, and that has been a little bit of the political challenge.”
For Bacon, a former board member for Denver Public Schools, the gun violence discussion is personal. “There are circumstances that were created by way of housing, by way of lack of resources that need to be intentionally undone here,” she said. “Our kids told us why they’re shooting at each other. Two years ago, I lost one of my former students in her driveway two winters ago, and we had a conversation. They said, ‘I don’t have anyone to talk to. I don’t have any place to go.’ We know they have guns in their backpacks because they tell us, and so we need to be intentional. Anyone that has some sort of lever, whether they’re elected, official or not, has to be intentional in doing this.”