Colorado Republicans prepare for gun debates as reform bills hit Capitol
A Republican lawmaker apologized to his colleagues Monday morning for a tweet that threatened civil war over gun reform efforts. But, in a nod to the looming legislative fights over firearms set to begin this week, he emphasized how important the issue was to him and his constituents.
“I do want you to understand that firearms are something that are near and dear to folks on the Western Slope and throughout rural Colorado,” Delta Republican Rep. Matt Soper told his House colleagues Monday morning. Two days before, he tweeted an image of himself firing a rifle and warning that anyone who attempted to disarm gunowners should be “prepared for civil war.”
“But I do want to say to this chamber: I should’ve chosen a couple of different words that were included there, and my apologies.”
Soper’s apology comes as Colorado lawmakers brace for protracted debate and public testimony about a package of gun violence prevention bills set to begin their journey through the Capitol this week. Republicans have promised to do whatever they can to fight the proposals — which include a ban on the sale of assault weapons, age limits and an expansion of the state’s red flag law — and cast them as ineffective solutions to complex problems.
The first of those bills — to institute a minimum three-day waiting period between a would-be gun buyer initiating a background check and taking ownership of the weapon — came before the House’s State, Civic, Military, & Veterans Affairs committee Monday. Three other gun reform measures will be in committee Wednesday. All are expected to pass committees controlled by Democrats, but they’re also certain to attract hours of testimony from opponents and supporters alike.
Fighting that and other bills, Republican minority leader Rep. Mike Lynch has said, is a top priority for his caucus. At least two of his colleagues — Republican Reps. Ryan Armagost and Ty Winter — both wore assault weapon pins on their lapels Monday morning. Winter said the gun bills constituted the state “falling asleep at the wheel” and said the Second Amendment was a way for the public to have a check on their government. There’s “not a lot of wiggle room” when it comes to gun rights, he said.
Lynch said the party is likely to launch hours of filibuster delays — akin to the 24-hour filibuster they undertook last year to fight a marquee abortion bill — to stall the gun legislation.
“It’s a bright, shiny thing that’s easier to approach than attacking the harder issues,” Lynch said of the gun reform bills. “We’re not talking about mental health because we’re going to waste the next three weeks dealing with guns. I’m not sure it’s an effort in the right direction.”
Given Democrats’ sizable majorities in both chambers, delays are likely all that Republicans can hope to achieve. Lynch joked that he hasn’t figured out a new way for the minority party to kill a bill. Taylor Rhodes, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, promised Monday to file lawsuits over the Democrats’ gun bills, an implicit acknowledgment that the party has the ability to pass the legislation it wants to.
The most controversial of the gun bills may be the one that Republicans have the best hope of defeating. On Friday, the much-debated bill to ban the sale of assault weapons in Colorado was finally introduced in the House, prompting Soper’s tweet. The bill’s introduction, which came after a high-profile rollout for the other gun bills, had been a sore spot for its primary sponsor, Denver Democrat Rep. Elisabeth Epps, who told the Post that she felt it was being sidelined.
The measure’s other primary sponsor, Rep. Andy Boesenecker, took his name off of the bill before it was introduced. Lawmakers have said it may have a difficult time passing the Senate, given that Democrats in that chamber feel it will be less effective — and require more attention and oxygen — than the rest of the package.
“The most diverse Democrat caucus that we’ve seen in Colorado’s history is probably going to come around and not be 100% behind some of these measures,” Lynch said, referring to the assault weapon bill. “Will it be enough to turn the tide? I don’t know.”
Taylor D. Rhodes, Executive Director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, second from right, testifies in front of Members of the House State Civil Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at the Colorado Capitol on March 6, 2023, in Denver. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Cliff Hummel testifies in front of Members of the House State Civil Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at the Colorado Capitol on March 6, 2023, in Denver. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Vice Chair David Ortiz, center, listens during testimony on HB23-1219 in front of members of the House State Civil Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at the Colorado Capitol on March 6, 2023, in Denver. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Cindy Dominquez listens as Peter Gurfein gives his testimoy to Members of the House State Civil Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at the Colorado Capitol on March 6, 2023, in Denver. Dominguez lost her daughter Audra to gun violence in Ocotober 2022 and came to testify in support of the bill. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
Tom Mauser, father of Colubine shooting victim Daniel Mauser, listens to others give their testimony in front of Members of the House State Civil Military and Veterans Affairs Committee at the Colorado Capitol on March 6, 2023, in Denver. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)
He repeatedly said that lawmakers should focus on mental health, rather than gun reform. That was a familiar attack line for Republicans and their allies: Rep. Richard Holtorf, an Akron Republican, said the Democrats’ bills wouldn’t do anything to address gun violence in the state, which he said is caused by societal degradation and the prevalence of drugs like fentanyl. He accused “social justice warriors” of not being willing to engage on those issues.
In testimony to lawmakers Monday, Rhodes also brought up the need to focus on mental health solutions. That prompted Boesenecker to ask Rhodes what mental health legislation his group had supported in years past. Rhodes replied that his organization is focused on gun rights, not mental health issues.
Asked what behavioral health solutions he would propose in lieu of gun reform, Lynch said he was in the minority in the House and that he couldn’t “keep ahead of” the many mental health proposals being contemplated in the legislature. A spokesman pointed to a bipartisan bill signed into law last week that will allow psychologists to prescribe medications, and Lynch reiterated that he thought part of the issue was a “degradation of dads showing sons how to properly use firearms.”
“What is the proper mental health solution?” he said. “I don’t know.”
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