DENVER — A bill banning the licensed carrying of a concealed handgun in many newly designated “sensitive spaces” around Colorado may soon be making its way through the legislature, despite similar laws passed in other states already being challenged in court, and losing.
The bill has not yet been introduced, but at least one version of a draft has been circulating, showing how far majority Democrats are willing to go to restrict Coloradans’ gun rights.
According to the copy obtained by Complete Colorado, the bill is almost identical to legislation already passed in California and New York. Those laws are already being challenged and are expected to eventually make their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The legislation “prohibits a person from carrying a firearm, both openly and concealed,” in a variety of public locations specified in the bill, with up to a $250 fine for the first offense and a maximum of $1,000 for every violation after.
Current sponsors of the bill are all Democrats: Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Boulder County; Sen. Chris Kolker, Jefferson/Arapahoe County; Sen. Tom Sullivan, Arapahoe/Douglas County; Rep. Kyle Brown, Boulder County; and Mandy Lindsay, Arapahoe County. Language for the bill was taken directly from Everytown for Gun Safety, an extremist national organization with the goal of banning certain firearms to the general public.
School safety on the chopping block
Notable in the bill is the repeal of legal authority for concealed carry permit holders to “have a handgun in the permittee’s vehicle on school property and carry a concealed handgun on school property while on duty as a school security officer.”
That piece would take away affordable armed security for charter schools and school districts across the state, said Laura Carno, the founder and president of Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response (FASTER) Colorado, a non-profit that raises money to deliver the necessary training to employees of school districts, charter schools, and private schools as they look for ways to protect their students in a safe and economical manner.
“You can’t disarm the districts that are already carrying,” Carno said. “There are (at least) 400 people today already carrying in schools. In the 20 years that this law has been in place, nothing has happened. Nothing bad has happened. But what we do know that has happened is bad guys keep coming onto school grounds trying to kill people, sometimes being successful, and there has been no armed staff member on Colorado K-12 campuses that has done anything bad. So why are they trying to do this?”
The 400 number Carno cites is the number of school staff in 41 districts across Colorado that Carno’s FASTER organization has helped train over the past seven years.
For some school districts, such as in Bennet, which sits about 25 miles southeast of Denver International Airport in rural Colorado, the response time for a law enforcement agency to react to an active shooter on site is too long to wait.
Districts like Bennett, Weld Re-1 in Gilcrest (about 5 miles south of Greeley), and the Briggsdale Schools (about 45 miles northeast of Greeley) have been open about allowing any staff member who wishes to go through the training to carry while on the job. The “extra” duty of the staff member is generally authorized through a separate contract with the school district that outlines the responsibilities and added pay the staff member receives, which in most cases is very minimal to make it affordable.
“From a rural school standpoint, if they wish to take the only armed security out of these rural schools, is the state government going to fund full time armed security at every rural school building?” Carno asked. “You can’t just take security away.”
Defining ‘sensitive spaces’
The bill doesn’t stop there, however. It goes on to define what “sensitive spaces” in Colorado are, and prohibits the carrying of a gun either open or concealed. That list includes:
- A public park or playground.
- A recreation facility or community center that is open to the public and is owned, operated or managed by a local government.
- Property open to the public while a public gathering, assembly or special event is being conducted, which includes demonstrations, marches, rallies, vigils, protests, and picket lines, as well as the sidewalk or streets adjacent to the gathering.
- A public or private hospital, nursing home, clinic, medical office, urgent care facility or other place at which medical or healthcare services are being provided.
- A mental health or substance abuse facility.
- Any stadium that is host to professional, collegiate, high school, amateur or student sporting events.
- Any amusement parks, aquariums, carnivals, circuses, fairs, museums, water parks, or zoos
- A courthouse and other buildings used for court proceedings.
- In a building or real property owned, leased, or operated by the state or a local government or on the adjacent grounds.
- At a location where a state or local government meeting occurs.
- Correctional facilities.
- A public library.
- A shelter operated by the state or a local government or charitable organization that serves homeless people.
- Daycare centers and preschools.
- The campus of any public or private community college, college or university.
It also outlines who is exempted from the bill, including:
- Police officers — but only when engaged in their official duties, off-duty officers would not be allowed to carry.
- Military — only when engaged in official duties.
- Security personnel when engaged in official duties.
The nearly identical laws already passed in California and New York came about because of recent rulings by the US Supreme Court that have further clarified what the right to “bear arms” means.
In one ruling, the court found that if a state wants to ban open carry, it must allow concealed carry or vice versa. So, now advocates of restricting gun rights are testing how “sensitive spaces” can be defined.
In 2008, the high court ruled that while residents have a right to bear arms there are some “sensitive spaces” where that right can be restricted (District of Columbia v. Heller).
In response, New York and California passed bills that define such spaces. A federal judge in December issued a stay against California’s bill. Judge Cormac Carney said it was unconstitutional because it essentially labeled nearly all public places in California as “sensitive spaces,” thus infringing upon the Second Amendment. A three-judge panel overturned Carney, but then the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Carney’s stay shortly after.
Taylor Rhodes, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said while recent court rulings are encouraging, gun control groups know exactly what they are doing. Rhodes said that by using Democrat-controlled legislatures to pass restrictive new gun laws they know are unconstitutional in an election year they are keeping groups like his busy and financially strapped with lawsuits — taking them out of the election equation.
“This bill, and bills like it, that have popped up all over the country, are in direct defiance to the Bruen decision, but they want to see how far they can get away with it,” Rhodes said. “It’s just dragging out the process. We have activist judges on the left that know how to play the game.”
In the 2022 Bruen decision, the Supreme Court ruled that courts must find that any new gun laws align with the nation’s “historical tradition,” to consider them constitutional. That ruling overturned several New York laws, including one that allowed subjective decisions in granting gun permits, such as if the applicant was of “good moral character” or whether “good cause” existed to deny the permit.
“The Colorado legislature has been open about their election strategy and their litigation strategy,” Rhodes continued, pointing to comments made by House Majority Leader Monica Duran that they intend to pass as many bills as possible.
“They want to pass as many bills as they possibly can because they know it will wrap up groups like mine in court, so we can’t play in elections,” he said. “We can’t do anything else because they know how much we have to spend on this.”
More gun bills coming
Rhodes said his group does plan to fight this bill should it ever get introduced, but he’s also concerned about nearly a dozen other bills that he is aware of that may be introduced.
- A second try at a ban on semi-automatic weapons.
- A second try at a private property shooting ban.
- A liability insurance requirement.
- A church carry ban.
- A further expansion of the so-called “red flag” law.
- Requiring background checks and waiting periods on the purchase of ammunition, magazines, parts and accessories.
- Requiring a permit to purchase and a limit of one gun purchase per month.
- 10-day waiting period.
Rhodes said these bills are popping up in response the only thing that seems to stick with gun control measures and that is the “sensitive places” issue.
However, even that area of law is being challenged successfully. In mid-January, a federal judge in Florida ruled that a federal law that bars people from possessing firearms in post offices is unconstitutional. Post offices have previously been considered “sensitive spaces” by the federal government, but never challenged in court until now.
Rhodes and Carno, both, said there will be many more challenges to come with these types of bills.
“We kind of expected this bill,” Rhodes said. “We and many in the industry are deeming this as a Bruen response bill because it changed a lot of things about (gun restriction legislation). It changed the burden of proof. Instead of the plaintiff having to prove why it’s not constitutional, now the government has to prove why it is. And it guaranteed the right to carry a firearm outside of your home and on your person. So, if a state wants to take away open carry, it has to offer you conceal carry, or the opposite. Now the courts will have to define “sensitive spaces.”
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