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June 03, 2024 11:11 AM UTC

The Days Of Gun-Toting Lawmakers In The Colorado Capitol Are Almost Over

  • 2 Comments
  • by: Colorado Pols
Colorado Republicans have historically not been their own best advocates on gun safety.

As the Denver Post’s Nick Coltrain reported on Friday afternoon, Gov. Jared Polis signed a consequential piece of gun safety legislation that will result in the end of a longstanding controversial policy, or rather a loophole in policy, that allowed lawmakers and some staff at the Colorado State Capitol building to bypass the Colorado State Patrol’s security checkpoint and metal detectors to bring concealed firearms into the building:

The ban, which takes effect July 1, includes the open and concealed carry of firearms, and it applies to public and private schools as well as colleges, universities and child care centers. It contains exemptions for law enforcement, military and security personnel, along with some others who carry guns as part of their official duties. Permitted concealed-carry permit holders can have a firearm in parking lots adjacent to banned locations.

Several other proposed gun-free zones were stripped from the bill as it moved through the legislature.

The ban applies to the State Capitol and members of the General Assembly. [Pols emphasis] During the debate, Republican lawmakers — some of whom carry firearms in the Capitol — questioned the constitutionality of applying the ban to them if it interferes with their ability to represent their constituents.

In April during debate in the Colorado Senate, GOP Sen. Jim Smallwood suggested that legislative immunity provisions in the state constitution made it impossible for lawmakers who violate this law to prosecuted. Smallwood’s sweeping interpretation of “legislative immunity” would essentially make it legal for lawmakers to commit all crimes short of felonies and treason with impunity during the legislative session, and seems to be based on a grade-school-level misreading of the constitution. While lawmakers cannot be arrested on the way to or from their duties at the Capitol for crimes less than a felony or treason, they most certainly can still be prosecuted.

In recent history, it is Republican lawmakers themselves who have made the best inadvertent argument to close the loophole allowing lawmakers to bypass CSP security and bring guns into the Colorado Capitol building. This session, Rep. Don Wilson left his loaded Glock pistol in a bathroom to be found by custodial staff, after which Wilson “voluntarily” agreed to stop bringing his gun to work. Two years ago, Rep. Richard Holtorf’s loaded pistol slipped out of his waistband and landed on the floor in a public area of the Capitol while he was rushing to a hearing. Going back a few years, former Rep. Jared Wright left his loaded gun in a committee hearing room. And those are just the incidents inside the building, with Republican lawmakers losing their unsecured guns, bringing a loaded gun into a security checkpoint at DIA, and pulling a gun on a police officer in the process of arresting a Republican lawmaker for DUI.

Perhaps even worse than their habit of mishandling their own guns, Republicans in the Colorado legislature including some of the specific offenders cited above have led the opposition to the state’s gun safety laws, prime sponsors of bills to roll back gun laws they’ve proven they can’t (or won’t) themselves obey. Taken together, with their own hypocritical conduct Republicans have invited the loss of their anachronistic privilege to carry concealed weapons in a building where no one other than law enforcement is allowed to do so. This compromise policy has been in place since metal detectors were installed at the Capitol in 2007, after an armed man was killed by CSP outside the governor’s office on the first floor of the building.

So what happens now? Although the legislation’s ban on carrying weapons on school campuses and child care facilities affects more people, it’s Republican lawmakers and staff whose longstanding tradition of packing heat at the Colorado Capitol is about to end that we expect to see complain the loudest–and even attempt to challenge the law by ostentatiously breaking it.

But in a building already protected by police where everyone else has to check their iron, armed Republicans at the Capitol have proven themselves more of a public safety risk than an asset.

This is an era long overdue to end.

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