DENVER–While the state legislature has temporarily adjourned due to the coronavirus outbreak, a bill requiring people to lock up their guns is awaiting lawmakers when they return to the capitol. House Bill 20-1355 makes it a class 2 misdemeanor to fail to lock up a firearm when “a juvenile can gain access to the firearm without the permission of the juvenile’s parent or guardian” or if “a resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm.” The law would only apply to “any premises that the person owns or controls.”
The potential penalty for violating the law would include a mandatory minimum of three months or up to 12 months in the county jail and/or a $250 to a $1,000 fine.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn, Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village and Sen. Chris Hansen, D-Denver.
The bill requires all firearms have a “locking device” installed or be in a “gun safe or other secure container,” except when the firearm is carried on the person “or within such close proximity thereto that the person can readily retrieve and use the firearm” as if it were.
There is an affirmative defense if the juvenile “gained possession of, and used, the firearm” in self-defense or against an intruder under Colorado’s Castle Doctrine law, or in defense of livestock. An affirmative defense means that the gun owner can be arrested, jailed pending bail and charged with the crime but at trial can argue the affirmative defense to have the charges dismissed.
Affirmative defenses often impose financial hardship by allowing police and prosecutors to run the defendant through the system where they may go to jail, post bond and need to hire an attorney, only to have the case dismissed by the judge after a hearing where evidence the juvenile used the firearm in self-defense is presented.
The bill also requires all licensed gun dealers provide “a locking device capable of securing the firearm” for each firearm “sold or otherwise transferred.”
Federal law requires gun manufacturers to provide a locking device with each handgun sold, but this bill would apply not just to the sale of all new and used firearms, but to transfers between private parties that Colorado law now requires be processed through the National Instant Check System by a licensed gun dealer.
This would add cost to the private transfer for the dealer to supply the mandatory locking device, even if the new owner has such a device already. A dealer who fails to provide the lock commits an “unclassified misdemeanor” with a fine of up to $500.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is required to “develop and implement a firearms safe storage education campaign” to inform gun owners and the public about the new criminal penalties.
An existing state law makes it a class 4 felony to “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly provides a handgun with or without remuneration to any person under the age of eighteen years.” The same statute makes it a class 1 misdemeanor to “allow unsupervised possession of a firearm” other than a handgun without the consent of the parents or legal guardian.
Another law says when “a person permits a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child’s life or health,” it is a crime ranging from a class 3 misdemeanor to a class 2 felony.
A 2000 paper in Yale University’s Journal of Law and Economics by John Lott, Jr. and John Whitley examined the effects of safe storage laws on accidental deaths and injuries and on crime rates. Analysis of available data led Lott and Whitley to the conclusion there is “little systematic impact of safe-storage laws on accidental deaths.”
“While there is some weak evidence that safe-storage laws reduce juvenile gun suicides, those intent on committing suicide appear to easily substitute into other methods, as the total number of juvenile suicides actually rises (if insignificantly) after passage of safe-storage laws,” says the paper.
Lott and Whitley also concluded that safe-storage laws can actually increase crime in the community.
“The only consistent impact of safe-storage laws is to raise rape, robbery, and burglary rates, and the effects are very large. Our most conservative estimates show that safe-storage laws resulted in 3,738 more rapes, 21,000 more robberies, and 49,733 more burglaries annually in just the 15 states with these laws. More realistic estimates indicate across-the-board increases in violent and property crimes,” the paper says.
Accidental gun deaths are rare.
Data from the Center for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) for 2017, the latest figures published, list a total of 486 deaths from accidental discharge of firearms nationwide. Of those only 62 such deaths were reported for children under age 15 and 117 for ages 15 to 24. The tables do not explore the circumstances of these deaths.
For 2017 suicides by firearms, 186 children under 15 died, while 2,959 persons between 15 and 24 died out of a total of 6,252 suicides in that age range.
Using the CDC’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) database, firearms deaths by urbanization were analyzed for two general categories; intentional self-harm and assault by others.
Assaults by others and “unspecified firearms discharges” are highest in large central metro areas and lowest in “nonmetro” (rural areas).
In 2018 there were a total of 6,956 firearms related deaths age 0 to 24. Of those 2,922 were the result of intentional self-harm and 4,034 were by assault by another. Below age 15 there were only 11 deaths reported in the 5 to 9-year-old category and they were the result of assault.