DENVER — What is likely the most controversial bill of the 2023 Colorado legislative session — and one that seemingly disappeared after being drafted in January — is back. A sweeping ban on so-called “assault weapons” is headed for a hearing at 9 a.m., Wednesday morning in the House Judiciary Committee, with a couple of changes.
The two changes remove a felony charge and remove a section referring to possession prior to the law taking effect.
Complete Colorado was the first to break the story of the ban on what appears to be an entire class of semi-automatic weapons.
Under House Bill 23-1230, “Prohibit Assault Weapons in Colorado,” majority Democrats — who control nearly two-thirds of both chambers — have defined “assault weapons” in the broadest of definitions, and the bill introduced does not appear to be much different than the original draft.
Prime sponsors on the bill are Rep. Elizabeth Epps, D- Denver and Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. Multiple media reports over the past months have said Gov. Jared Polis has hinted that he isn’t on board with bill and could use veto power to stop it.
Although Democrats have the needed two-thirds majority in the House to overturn a veto, they would need one Republican in the Senate to vote with them to meet the two-thirds requirement.
The bill outlines explicitly what guns would still be legal in Colorado in one paragraph of the 13-page bill. A so-called “assault weapon” does not include any firearm that “has been made permanently inoperable; an antique firearm manufactured before 1899; a replica of an antique firearm; a firearm that is manually operated by bolt; pump; lever; slide action, unless the firearm is a shotgun with a revolving cylinder; or a firearm that can only fire rimfire ammunition.”
The bill will prohibit anyone in Colorado from “manufacturing, importing, purchasing, selling, offering to sell, or transferring ownership of a so-called “assault weapon.” It would also prohibit the possession of rapid-fire trigger activators.
A violation of the new law would be considered a class 2 misdemeanor with additional civil penalties from $1,000 to $5,000 based on when the violation occurred.
The original draft created a class 6 felony for anyone selling a banned weapon if that weapon was later used in the commission of a felony or a crime of violence. That has been removed from the bill.
The other change is the term “possession” has been removed, along with all the conditions for possession prior to the effective date of the law. The law now applies to: “The unlawful manufacture, import, purchase, sale, and transfer of ownership of assault weapons,” and possession of a rapid-fire trigger activators, leaving open to interpretation whether those who possess the firearms prior to the effective date are grandfathered in.
David Kopel, an adjunct professor of advanced constitutional law at Denver University’s Sturm College of Law as well as research director of the Independence Institute*, said he doesn’t believe this bill will stand up in court as written.
Although there is some precedent for a much narrower scope of bans on semiautomatic weapons, banning the entire class is a different subject matter.
“There has never been anything enacted like this that has been held constitutional,” Kopel said.
Under the bill, “assault weapon” is defined as:
- A semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine, or that may be readily modified to accept a detachable magazine, and has one or more of the following characteristics:
- A pistol grip.
- Any feature capable of functioning as a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand.
- A folding, telescoping, thumbhole, or detachable stock that is otherwise foldable or adjustable in a manner that operates to reduce the length, size, or any other dimension, or otherwise enhances the ability to conceal the weapon.
- A flash suppressor.
- A functional grenade launcher.
- A shroud attached to the barrel, or that partially or completely encircles the barrel, allowing the bearer to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned, but excluding a slide that encloses the barrel.
- A threaded barrel.
- A semiautomatic rifle that has a fixed large-capacity magazine.
- A .50 caliber rifle.
- A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine, or that may be readily modified to accept a detachable magazine, if the semiautomatic pistol meets another set of circumstances (found here).
- A semiautomatic shotgun that meets another set of circumstances (found here).
- A semiautomatic firearm that has the capacity to accept a belt ammunition feeding device.
- A semiautomatic firearm that has been modified to be operable as an assault weapon as defined.
- Any part or combination of parts designed or intended to covert a firearm into an assault weapon as defined.
*Independence Institute is the publisher of Complete Colorado.
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