In February, 16-year-old Luis Garcia was shot while sitting inside of a car near Denver’s East High School. He died a few weeks later from his injuries. In March, two school administrators were shot by a 17-year-old inside the same school.
This recent gun crime again raised local concerns for personal safety, especially when considering Colorado’s history of shootings including those at Aurora’s Century 16 theater, Columbine High School, and Boulder’s King Soopers. Many Denver mayoral candidates are running on platforms that include measures for public safety. Meanwhile, nonprofits and the state legislature are working to find solutions that lead to the reduction and possible prevention of gun violence.
America has more guns than people and cars, according to Geneva Small Arms Survey, which as of 2018, estimated that there are 393 million civilian-owned guns compared to 276 million cars. The U.S. firearm industry grew by 232% in 2018, and was a $63.5-billion-dollar industry in 2020.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. leads the globe in mass shootings, gun-related homicides, and firearm suicides. With America’s gun ownership and gun violence showing no signs of slowing, some have become numb to it. Many feel as if there is nothing new to be said on this topic; however, others feel the urgency that action must be taken to address gun violence.
Meanwhile, the United States gun situation is having an impact beyond its borders. An article entitled, “Stopping toxic flow of guns from U.S. to Mexico” in The Harvard Gazette highlights that between 70 to 90 percent of guns recovered at crime scenes in Mexico can be traced back to the U.S. “Drug cartels, in particular, buy those weapons in the U.S. mostly in Texas or Arizona, and smuggle them across the border,” the article explains.
While the United States has provided Mexico with billions of dollars in security and counternarcotics assistance, many argue that drug cartels being armed significantly contributes to the destabilization of Mexico and to the number of individuals who are forced to flee the country due to violence. The cartels advance violence and corruption in Mexico, resulting in tens of thousands of homicides each year.
Data from the Council of Foreign Relations indicates the United States is the biggest arms dealer on earth. From 2017 to 2021, it sold weapons to over 100 nations. In 2020 alone, American companies made $111 billion from foreign military sales.
Colorado gun control advocates and organizations who have taken up the fight against gun violence include nonprofits like Colorado Ceasefire, Colorado Coalition Against Gun Violence, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP has been active supporting legislative bills that advance gun violence prevention, and bringing together community leaders and citizens at town halls about gun violence.
The Coalition Against Gun Violence supports passing legislation to reduce gun violence and blocking legislation that weaken Colorado’s gun laws. Colorado Ceasefire is the longest-serving statewide, grassroots gun violence prevention organization in Colorado. The organization is composed of local parents, teachers, students, community members, gun violence survivors, and more who have rallied together to prevent and reduce gun violence.
“We have listened to young people of all races and backgrounds who are unified in stating that there must be change,” says Sondra Young, president of the Denver chapter of the NAACP. “The NAACP believes that if we work in partnership with the community, we can prevent gun violence in cases of mass shootings, suicide and domestic violence.”
She stresses, “We must advance gun laws that reduce risks to our community and cultivate a culture of gun safety. Progress looks like reducing firearm access to youth and people who are at risk of harming themselves or others. The growing gun industry must be held accountable and we must enact effective and consistent oversight of the sale of firearms and ammunition. We can work with responsible gun owners and dealers toward solutions while we institute common-sense safety measures like mandatory training and licensing for owners, mental health screenings, and safe/secure gun storage requirements.”
The Colorado legislature created the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment in 2021. On March 8 this year, three major gun bills that were introduced by Democratic senators were heard in the Colorado Senate Military & Veterans Affairs Committee. The bills were successfully passed in the Senate and introduced in the state House of Representatives as of March 14.
SB23-170 Extreme Risk Order Petitions
Under current law, a family or household member and a law enforcement officer or agency can petition for an extreme risk protection order that removes a gun from an individual’s possession. The bill would expand the list of who can petition for an extreme risk protection order to include licensed medical care providers, licensed mental health-care providers, licensed educators, and district attorneys. The bill requires the Office of Gun Violence Prevention to expend funds annually for a public education campaign regarding the availability of and the process for requesting an extreme risk protection order.
SB23-168 Gun Violence Victims’ Access to Judicial System
This bill would repeal a section of current law limiting product liability actions against manufacturers of firearms and ammunition to situations in which there was a defect in the design or manufacture of a firearm or ammunition. The bill defines the terms “firearm industry member” and “firearm industry product,” and requires each industry member that is engaged in the manufacture, distribution, importation, marketing, or wholesale or retail sale of an industry product in Colorado to establish and implement reasonable controls and precautions related to the industry product in its control.
SB23-169 Increasing the Minimum Age to Purchase Firearms
Current law allows people 18 years old and up to purchase and possess firearms. This bill would increase the age of gun purchase and possession to 21 years of age, making it a class 2 misdemeanor and a class 5 felony for second and subsequent violations. Exceptions for persons between 18 and 20 include those who have: attended a safety course; engage in shooting practice, target shooting and organized competitions; are hunting, trapping, taking, or killing wildlife as allowed by law; are at least 18 years of age when this bill is enacted in 2023; and a few others.
State Senator Sonya Jacquez Lewis (SD17) one of the prime sponsors of the gun violence victim’s access to judicial systems bill, says, “It’s super important in this day and time because it gives us the underlying basis to get rid of the firearms special protections, special immunity, that is happening right now and we must give victims access to their day in court and right now they can’t do it unless we pass this bill.”
Editor’s note: Miah Ntepp serves as political analyst and civil rights leader in Denver. He is also a local author who researches and tracks legislation in Colorado. A strong believer in the power of progress, Ntepp regularly campaigns on platforms to implement equity and support for all regardless of zip code, ethnicity or socio-economic status.