Several sweeping sweeping criminal justice reform bills have been passed in back-to-back Colorado legislative sessions. Democratic lawmakers claim to be addressing the issue of disparate outcomes faced by minority Coloradans in dealing with the criminal justice system and to reduce the number of criminal penalties on the books.
However, their recent approach to gun control suggests they are talking out of both sides of their mouths, with majority Democrats cramming through three new gun control bills just before the end of the recently adjourned legislative session, creating new offenses and practically ensuring more encounters between minorities and police.
Perhaps most pernicious of these bills is Senate Bill 21-256, which would allow for any county or municipality to ban the possession, sale, or transfer of a firearm or firearm accessory within their jurisdiction. It would also allow any local government, special district, or college campus to ban concealed carry.
Reversing a long-standing system of state preemption, Colorado Democrats now claim individual localities are best situated to regulate firearms as they see fit, a clear red herring as the bill expressly prohibits any locality from passing more permissive gun regulations that they might see fit.
Plainly put, SB-256 is a solution in search of a problem. It was proposed under the theory that had the city of Boulder’s assault weapons ban been allowed to remain, the King Soopers shooter would not have been able to commit his horrific crime. Never mind the fact that the shooter purchased his weapon legally, in another city entirely, and possessed a separate weapon not prohibited by the assault weapons ban that could have easily been used in the crime instead.
The attack on the rights of concealed carry permit holders, a group already subject to extra vetting including fingerprinting, competence training, an additional background check, and the oversight of their local sheriff, defies all logic and is closer to a waging of culture war than sensible public policy.
What the bill does instead is create a legal mine field for otherwise law-abiding gun owners to navigate as they travel through their home state, establishing new criminal penalties where there simply isn’t a need. And if the progressive rhetoric on criminal justice is to be believed, these new penalties set the stage for a whole new rash of disparate encounters with police for minority gun owners in Colorado.
One need only look at the history of gun control laws and their victims to see how this will play out. The “stop-and-frisk” policy of the NYPD, for example, notorious for its vastly disproportionate application to minorities, was in place for the express purpose of enforcing gun laws in prohibited areas. Moreover, black Americans make up 53% of the population incarcerated for firearms offenses, according to the United States Sentencing Commission, despite representing only 13% of the population.
There is plenty of reason to believe that imposing new criminal prohibitions on previously legal firearms and carrying practices will inevitably lead to new encounters between minority Coloradans and the police, where the potential for escalation and violence is always present. Just this past weekend, a black teenager in Maryland was tased and kneed repeatedly by police officers enforcing a vaping ban. If prohibitions on benign activities like vaping can lead to such confrontations, where do Colorado Democrats expect things to go when guns are added to the mix in law enforcement encounters?
Criminal laws are necessarily enforced at the barrel of a gun. If you are going to pass a prohibition on an object or a behavior, you are necessarily greenlighting to use of violence to achieve those ends. Such is the nature of state enforcement. Whatever remains of Jared Polis’ libertarian streak, let it be reembraced before this disastrous bill is enacted into law and the law-abiding gun owners of Colorado once again find themselves in the crosshairs.
Jake Fogleman, a graduate of Metropolitan State University, is part of the Future Leaders program at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver
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