DENVER — Colorado Democrat Mike Johnston pledges to further strengthen Colorado’s gun control laws if elected Governor in November.
Johnston spoke Monday about plans he released last week that would build on legislation he sponsored in 2013 while serving in the Colorado State Senate. That legislation limited magazine size and required universal background checks.
“I never knew a hunter that needed a 100-round magazine to shoot an elk,” he said. “When I look around the United States, such as in Las Vegas, those are tragedies that could have been prevented if the laws we passed in Colorado were the laws of the land around the country.”
Johnston said he feels proud of what Colorado has accomplished and proud to have been a leader in those, but that more still needs to be done.
“I have been a gun owner my whole life,” Johnston said. “Guns go back generations in our family. My dad taught me to shoot when I was 10. That’s been a part of our family upbringing. So living and growing up with guns has been part of our history. But my family are both gun owners and they are pragmatists. People who believe in the balance of public safety and the rights to enjoy recreation and to go skeet shooting or to hunt or to protect your own home. Those are the values that are important to me.”
Johnston said, however, there are a lot of things that don’t make sense to him about where to draw the line between safety and the 2nd Amendment. He outlined three core areas he wants to focus on if elected.
- Keep guns away from people who are a danger to themselves and others.
Johnston pledged to allow temporary restraining orders from gun ownership against any individual where a family member or police officer believes that individual is a threat to themselves or others.
“There are folks who are not in sound mental state and should not have access to firearms,” he said, adding it would allow family members or law enforcement to ask a judge “to temporarily block someone from access to firearms until they get to a place with greater mental stability. We saw the facts that supported this in the shooting of Zackari Parrish in Douglas County.”
Parrish was the Douglas County sheriff deputy killed by a man who was known to have mental problems.
Johnston said they would be careful to make sure everyone’s rights were respected, requiring a hearing before a judge and allowing for an appeal if anyone felt they didn’t get a fair hearing.
“We’ve all had disputes with family members where you’re not really sure who’s on what side,” he said “So it is important that the process respects people’s rights along the way. It is important to have protections in place to make sure you didn’t have an angry cousin out to sabotage somebody. But when we did the research after some of these catastrophes there was always someone who had concerns but didn’t know how to voice those to the right person to make an impact.”
Laura Carno from Coloradans for Civil Liberties said temporary restraining orders are already available, so despite the protections Johnston said he would want in place, she still has concerns about the ramifications.
“To be able to take away somebody’s right to self-defense without due process is wrong,” Carno said, adding she will wait to see what the exact language is that Johnston’s proposing before she officially opposes the plan, but the idea still concerns her. “The devil’s in the details, but since he’s proposing something different than what is already in place, I have concerns about the due process because Coloradans for Civil Liberties takes very seriously someone’s right to defend themselves.”
Johnston will also push to expand the list of crimes that require lifetime bans from gun ownership to include closing what he called the “boyfriend loophole” and people suspected of hate crimes.
“One of the largest source of gun violence and deaths in Colorado and around the country continues to be women in relationships that are domestically abusive,” he said.
The boyfriend loophole relates to the definition of domestic violence, which is the use or attempted use of physical force or the threat or use of a deadly weapon.
Current laws place a lifetime ban on anyone convicted of, at minimum, misdemeanor crimes of domestic violence by a current or former spouse, parent or guardian of the victim, by a person whom the victim shares a child, by a person who is cohabiting or has cohabited with the victim, or a person similarly situated to a spouse, parent or guardian of the victim.
Current law does not extend to situations of dating. Currently if someone is convicted of a misdemeanor crime of a physical nature and the victim is just dating that the perpetrator, it is not considered to be domestic violence.
Finally, he would expand on hate crime convictions to include those who may not have been convicted yet but have demonstrated their support of hate-related ideas.
“We saw in Charleston, (South Carolina) that the risk of someone with access to guns who we know has already been involved, engaged or convicted of hate crimes, is a real risk to the country,” he said. “One we don’t want to engage in.”
- Ban weapons and accessories designed for assault and mass murder:
“The work still to be done is around bump stocks,” he said. “There is no place in Colorado for weapons of mass murder that can essentially turn semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons.”
Carno said banning bump stocks will not stop people’s ability to convert a weapon easily.
“You can create that same sort of effect with other items you have in your household,” Carno said. “What it always comes down to is, if you look at any particular thing, the kind of firearm, the style of firearm, the size of magazine, the type of grip, none of those things ever, when banned, reduce crime because criminals are going to criminal.”
- Make Colorado schools the safest in the country by helping schools identify challenges before they turn violent.
Johnson said that includes helping districts with threat assessment plans, suicide prevention and improving the Safe-To-Tell reporting system, which is an anonymous tool used by many school districts for students to use to report others who may be threat to themselves or others.
In a shift from the usual liberal platform, however, Johnston said he does and will continue to support a current Colorado law that allows schools to contract with its employees, whether they are teachers, principals, janitors, football coaches or others, to also provide armed security.
“I don’t support arming teachers as a policy across the board,” said Johnston, who is a former teacher/principal himself. “But I support the current state law that we have. You go to a lot of these smaller school districts, the superintendent, the principal, the janitor and the teacher are all the same person. So, if someone wants to go through he dual endorsement of being a school principal and also be certified as a security guard and be able to carry as part of their dual role, which is what the current law allows you to do, I think that if a school district and a school board and parents want to do that, I think that is a reasonable step.”
Carno said Johnston’s views on the current law were refreshing to hear.
“It reinforces what we have always said that school safety is a nonpartisan issue,” Carno said. “What we know about these school tragedies is that on average, one person is shot every 17 seconds. Nothing will save that first child like an armed staff person who is right there.”
When questioned why violent crime has risen in Colorado since the 2013 legislative changes, Johnston said he is working closely with law enforcement to find an answer, but he doesn’t believe tighter gun legislation is the reason.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation reported that in 2016, there were 189 homicides in Colorado, a 9.9 percent increase over 2015, and the highest since 2004. It was a 47 percent increase over 2010 when there were 129.
Smash-and-grab robberies at pawn shops and gun shops are also up.
Johnston said he believes without the legislation the statistics may be greater, adding he has lot of friends in law enforcement — including his wife who is a district attorney in Denver — and is always working closely with them to find answers to the growing crime problem.
“I think there are other questions around sentencing reform and what’s working and what’s not,” he said. “But we’re quite astonished by what the impact has been in keeping firearms out of the hands of folks who are already felons. There was more than 6,000 people last year alone who were denied firearms because of the background checks.”
He added 2,000 of those were in private sales that would not have been caught under the old system.
“I think there is really good evidence that there has been a positive effect on keeping more and more guns out of the hands of violent criminals,” he said, adding there needs to be a closer watch on where the violent crimes are coming from and what are their causes and patterns. “I think it’s pretty clear that the background checks have actually decreased that exposure rather than increased it.”
Carno disagreed, saying there is a pattern of evidence across the country to support the connection between a rise in crime and the strengthening of gun control laws.
“When gun ownership is on the increase nationwide,” Carno said. “And crimes committed with firearms are on the decrease nationwide, he has to ask himself that why when in places where gun control laws continue to get more strict, crime continues to increase. So I would have to ask Senator Johnston why Colorado would be any different when the only thing that changed in 2013 when our crime started to go up was those laws. He is proposing something to make people think he doing something, but making gun control laws even more strict is not going to reduce crime.”
Johnston said he believes his bucket of gun law changes are responsive to what he’s seen around the country and the gun violence of the past several months and years.
“Colorado is an example for the western states where we value the 2nd Amendment and respect the rights of folks to carry and bear arms,” Johnston said. “And also feel like we’re going to protect people in their homes and their churches and their shopping malls and school houses where they want to be able to go and live and work without the fear of another mass shooting.”