- Dec 21:
- Colorado gun sales soar in 2015, even amid debate over mass shootings
- Dec 20:
- Open carry laws under scrutiny in Colorado
- Americans as likely to die by gunshot as in traffic
- Dec 14:
- Many states expanding gun rights
As President Barack Obama revealed a list of executive orders Tuesday designed to reduce gun violence across the nation, Colorado appeared unlikely to feel much in the way of direct impact.
The state has instituted gun-control and mental health measures that address, and in some ways exceed, the two major fronts of the president's offensive. But the infusion of federal dollars and details — if they survive legal and political challenges — likely would enhance Colorado's recent efforts.
Colorado's current gun-control laws are more stringent than federal law even with the president's executive orders to scrutinize licensed and private sales. The state already requires those checks and has other provisions, including limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.
And Colorado's year-old mental health crisis centers have begun to deal with issues often seen as peripheral to gun violence.
"One could say it won't make any difference here," said Eileen McCarron, of the gun-safety group Colorado Ceasefire, in assessing the executive orders. "But you know what is the difference? Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah — all those states are within a couple hours driving distance from Colorado. A prohibited buyer could easily circumvent our stronger laws to go to a gun show in Kansas or Wyoming.
"It's going to be beneficial for us if (the orders) happen in surrounding states."
Jacquelyn and Bryan Clark, owners of Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in Lakewood, said they support greater resources for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI and increasing access to mental health information that could provide more comprehensive background checks.
But they don't foresee much change in their business.
"We are certainly in favor of making our communities safer," Jacquelyn Clark said. "But much of what he said won't affect us."
Colorado already has been a fierce battleground in the fight over gun rights and regulation. Conflict over a set of new laws tightening background checks and addressing other aspects of firearms ownership rocked the legislature in 2013.
Two political casualties of that dust-up were in the room with the president Tuesday when he unveiled his executive orders: former state Sens. Angela Giron and John Morse, both Democrats successfully targeted for recall in the wake of the new measures.
And the largely party-line nature of that legislative controversy echoed in predictable statements of support and condemnation of Obama's orders by Colorado's congressional delegation. But as a practical matter, the executive orders mostly would have indirect effects on current laws that, supporters say, are tougher than anything the president could have implemented on his own.
Colorado law requires background checks for gun transactions with licensed dealers and private parties, with the gun buyer bearing the cost. The number of checks spiked to nearly 400,000 in 2013 but declined to 314,976 the following year and, through November, stood at 297,657 in 2015.
Denials annually fluctuate around 2 percent, including 6,590 through the first 11 months of last year.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which handles background checks statewide, said it is reviewing the executive orders and coordinating with federal authorities to determine what impact, if any, they might have on state procedures.
Although Colorado's gun laws outpace Obama's actions, the California-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gives the state a C-minus rating.
On the mental health side, Obama's action calls for $500 million in federal money to expand prevention and treatment. In 2013, Gov. John Hickenlooper instituted a $25 million mental health crisis plan as a response to the Aurora movie theater shooting one year earlier.
That created 10 around-the-clock mental health crisis centers across the state. Six among them have the combined capacity to house nearly 100 people for up to five days, often long enough to stabilize a crisis and create a follow-up treatment plan.
The governor's initiative also created a statewide mental health hotline and mobile crisis teams that respond to people's homes or workplaces within one hour in cities and two hours in rural areas.
In their first year, the need for the centers has been obvious.
The walk-in crisis centers — five in the Denver area, plus one each in Grand Junction, Pueblo, Colorado Springs, Greeley and Fort Collins — received 20,155 visits in the past year.
The mobile response teams made more than 11,000 visits to people in crisis, and the hotline received 107,200 calls, according to state records.
"Before these resources were in place, some folks wouldn't seek help," said Liza Tupa, division director of community behavioral health for the Colorado Department of Human Services. "Other folks might have found their way to an ER or a jail, unfortunately."
The president wants to make it easier for the background check system to include data on who is banned from buying a gun because they have been involuntarily committed to a mental institution or found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Many states do not require courts and hospitals to report such data to the system because of concerns about privacy laws. A new federal rule makes it clear that authorities can send the information.
As part of 2013 gun reform, Colorado legislation directed the state court administrator to submit the information to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
Andrew Romanoff, president of Mental Health America of Colorado and a former Colorado House speaker, said Obama's order "strikes the appropriate balance between protecting privacy and providing public safety."
"It doesn't say if you go seek treatment your name is all of a sudden going to become public or your treatment records are," he said.
Other mental health advocates said the federal money is encouraging, and that they hope for continued education to help reduce the stigma of mental illness. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.
Staff writer Tom McGhee contributed to this story.
Updated Jan. 6, 2015 at 1:30 p.m.Comments from Andrew Romanoff, president of Mental Health America of Colorado, have been clarified. Romanoff said he hopes for continued education to help reduce the stigma of mental illness. Other advocates said they worry the president's executive order will create further stigma.