Democratic state Rep. Elisabeth Epps speaks on her bill to ban assault weapons in Colorado in front of the House Judiciary Committee on April 19, 2023. (Sara Wilson/Colorado Newsline)
A bill to ban assault weapons in Colorado failed in the early hours of Thursday morning after hundreds of people came to the Capitol to share testimony during its first committee hearing, despite the sponsor attempting to narrow the bill through amendment.
House Bill 23-1230, brought forward by Democratic Rep. Elisabeth Epps of Denver, failed on a 6-7 vote. Three Democrats — Reps. Marc Snyder of Manitou Springs, Bob Marshall of Highlands Ranch and Said Sharbini of Thornton — voted with the House Judiciary Committee’s Republican members.
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It’s an outcome Epps predicted.
“I’ve long said that Democrats weren’t serious about a statewide ban on assault weapons. So if we fail, I was right. I want to be wrong. I want to be wrong. I’d like to be wrong today,” she said during her opening remarks, a full 15 hours before the bill died.
California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York all have assault weapon prohibitions.
As introduced, the bill would have prohibited the manufacturing, sale and purchasing of so-called assault weapons in Colorado like AR-15 rifles, which have been used in many mass shootings in the United States in recent decades. That is the bill over 500 people signed up to speak about on Wednesday, with opponents criticizing it as an unconstitutional attack on their Second Amendment rights and supporters saying it is a necessary, overdue measure to reduce the carnage during shootings.
Epps, however, offered amendments following testimony, which she hinted at during her opening comments. The amendments would have narrowed the bill to apply to rapid-fire trigger activators, such as bump stocks. It was an attempted concession to win over support from Democrats opposed to the sweeping, controversial total ban.
Neither amendment passed, essentially sealing the deal that the bill itself would also fail.
Republicans criticized Epps’ move to essentially gut her own bill after crowds of people showed up to testify on a different version.
“So now we’re really just wasting people’s time because what the people thought they were coming here to testify on is no longer what they’re coming to testify on. It’s a weird game that’s being played here, but it doesn’t do much for the people of Colorado,” House Minority Leader Mike Lynch, a Wellington Republican, told reporters a few hours into the hearing.
Snyder and Marshall attributed their opposition votes to pledges they made as candidates.
“Being the first Democrat elected from Douglas County since 1966, I ran on a commitment that I would oppose any rollback of gun law restrictions in this state, but that I wouldn’t support any further restrictions,” Marshall said.
He did vote in favor for the two amendments to narrow the bill.
Marshall voted against two other gun measures that are headed to the governor’s desk that will increase the minimum age to purchase guns and establish a three-day waiting period.
‘We’re going to have to answer for this’
Epps’ bill was not included in the gun legislation package introduced and championed by Democrats earlier this session, and never had solid support from leadership and more moderate Democrats. Once it was introduced, it took a month and a half for the bill to have its first committee hearing.
“Banning assault weapons is the relatively low-hanging fruit. It should be,” Epps said in her closing arguments after the bump stock amendment failed. “I’m slightly in shock right now.”
After 12 hours of passionate testimony, Assistant Majority Leader Jennifer Bacon said it is clear that gun violence and mass shooting prevention is the issue of the generation. She said the bill’s fate — it died in a year with historic Democratic majorities in the Legislature — is something lawmakers will all need to explain to their constituents.
“The last day and couple of days and seeing how this bill has progressed, I’m deeply concerned about when we had things in our hands and the ability to make decisions, we did not. That’s something we’re going to need to be responsible for,” she said. “Everyone has their districts and what not, but we’re going to have to answer for this.”
“I want to ask our communities to be relentless in asking for this,” she added.
The Legislature is also set to consider a bill to ban the manufacture, sale and possession of unserialized ghost guns. The legislative session ends on May 8.
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