Colorado now legally bars anyone previously convicted of any of 110 different felony crimes from possessing a gun, under a new law signed Thursday by Gov. Jared Polis.
The enactment of this law, HB22-1257, is the latest chapter in a multiyear legislative process to determine which people with previous felony convictions should face state prosecution for gun possession, and which can legally possess firearms.
There are about 600 different felony crimes in Colorado. Until recently, anyone who’d been convicted of any of those crimes was eligible to face additional charges if caught possessing a gun.
That changed under a 2021 state law, SB21-271, which required that only those with certain prior felony convictions were subject to state prosecution for gun possession. A list of 600-plus crimes was whittled down to only those few dozen crimes that fall under the Victim Rights Act — murder, sexual assault, incest, child abuse, stalking and witness intimidation, among others.
After SB21-271 was signed last year, lawmakers and law enforcement officials had second thoughts about a number of provisions in that massive piece of legislation. Among their top concerns was expanding the list of people who could be prosecuted in the state for gun possession.
Enter HB22-1257, a bipartisan effort to add prior conviction of several dozen more crimes — including arson, inciting a riot, hostage-taking and aggravated animal cruelty — to the list of things that disqualify someone, in the state’s view, from possessing a gun.
Bills that touch on firearms in any way almost never have bipartisan sponsorship and almost never pass with bipartisan support. HB22-1257 was sponsored by Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs and Rep. Matt Soper of Delta, both Republicans, and Sen. Julie Gonzales of Denver and Rep. Mike Weissman of Aurora, both Democrats. Their bill sailed through the state Senate and faced a mostly party-line vote in the state House.
“What was passed last year, the list was incredibly narrow. What we included here in 1257 are really horrible (crimes) — terrorism is one, aggravated cruelty to animals,” Soper said before the bill signing. “These are individuals who’ve proven they can’t be trusted in society with a weapon.”
Added his cosponsor, Weissman, “I think that now there is a better balance between a lot of different things: desire to not use criminal consequences too broadly, the desire to promote public safety, the desire for there to be criminal consequences for those who threaten public safety, and Second Amendment rights.”
HB22-1257 went into effect immediately after Polis signed it.
Federal law still prohibits gun possession by people with previous felony convictions, so Colorado can’t promise them immunity from being prosecuted on those grounds. But it’s rare, officials said, that federal law enforcement takes interest in the issue of simple gun possession by someone with a previous felony conviction.
While the legislature can’t control what federal prosecutors do, its mandate to state prosecutors is expected to apply to the vast majority of cases in this area, in Colorado.
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