Ghost gun ban moves forward with no GOP support in state Senate 

BY FREDA MIKLIN
GOVERNMENTAL REPORTER

On April 28, the State Senate passed SB23-279 Unserialized Firearms and Firearm Components to make the manufacture and ownership of unregistered ghost guns (made using 3D printers) illegal, on third and final reading, sending it on to the House for consideration. It is scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee on May 2.

The vote in the Senate on April 28 was 20-12, with all those present voting along party lines, except Sen. Kevin Priola, who changed his affiliation from Republican to Democrat in August 2022 due to his disappointment with the national party’s reaction to the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, but frequently votes with his former party.

The Villager watched the debate on the live video feed available from the Senate floor the day before, when the bill was heard and passed on second reading, to see how legislation actually develops in real time.

That afternoon, SB23-279 prime sponsor Sen. Chris Hansen (D-31) told his colleagues that the goal of the bill was to reduce the number of unserialized firearms in the state, thereby improving public safety. He pointed to the recent use of ghost guns in the November 2022 Club Q deadly mass shooting in Colorado Springs and the March 2023 shooting of two East High School deans in Denver by a student.

State Sen. Rhonda Fields (D-28), Hansen’s co-sponsor, told her colleagues that this bill “doesn’t take away anyone’s Second Amendment rights,” but rather, seeks to “regulate those who want to make their own guns,” requiring that anyone who currently has a ghost gun serialize and register it by December 31, 2023. She pointed out that, “Ghost guns are becoming the number one choice of firearms for those who can’t comply with a background check.”

Following Sen. Fields, Sen. Kevin Van Winkle (R-30) came to the podium of the Senate to say that before “getting into the intricacies of the debate” on the proposed law, “We ought to…first…look at what laws we have passed already…that perhaps might drive someone to take a look at building their own firearms at home out of fear of being tracked and traced and other things.” To accomplish that, Van Winkle proposed an amendment to SB23-279 to require the Division of Criminal Justice of the State Department of Public Safety to, “Conduct a study to identify current state laws that encourage people to acquire unregistered, un-serialized firearms,” and, he added, “As part of the study,” which must be completed in 2023, “The division shall survey firearms owners.”

Later, Van Winkle compared the people who make ghost guns to people who build their own motorcycles. 

Next, GOP Minority Leader Sen. Kevin Lundeen (R-9), who said he supported Van Winkle’s proposed amendment because it was necessary to determine, “Why would people pursue weapons of this nature (unserialized and unregistered)?” He suggested it might be because President Biden is a Democrat or because a candidate for office from Texas said at one time (referring to former U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke in 2019), “We are going to take away everyone’s AR-15,” which weapon, according to Lundeen, “is used for any number of sporting or hunting purposes.” 

Responding, Hansen, who has two teenagers who attend East High School, noted that three well-known Republican elected officials, 18th Judicial District Attorney John Kellner, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, and Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, had testified in favor of SB23-279 when it was heard in committee. Kellner was the GOP candidate for Colorado Attorney General in November 2022.

Sen. Fields returned to the podium to say, “We don’t need to study this…Our District Attorney in Denver and my District Attorney in Arapahoe County…are asking for immediate action.”

The discussion that followed included a statement from Sen. Larry Liston (R-10) that the problem isn’t guns and Colorado was wrong to eliminate the death penalty because, “People who commit these crimes know that the worst thing that’s going to happen to them…if they kill five or 10 or 15 or 20 people, is that there will be life imprisonment and they get free room, free board, free medical care, free everything, and they go, ‘It’s a deal,’ and they’re willing to do it.”

Sen. Mark Baisley (R-4) came up to tell his fellow senators that this bill would “infringe on the folks who simply want to remain powerful in their person in defense of an overzealous government.” 

Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Bob Gardner (R-12) spoke for over 30 minutes total and urged a no vote on the bill because, “Gun violence is not the problem, the problem is people violence.”

Finally, Sen. Nick Hinrichsen (D-3), who had been presiding over the discussion, turned that responsibility over to Majority Whip Sen. Julie Gonzales (D-34) so he could testify that, “It takes an absurd degree of mental contortionism to create an argument against (SB23-279)…Background checks are designed to keep firearms out of the hands of those who cannot legally possess them (Creating a ghost gun) is a way to get around a background check.”

After nearly two hours of discussion that included statements from 11 different senators, four Democrats and seven Republicans, the bill was adopted on second reading on an unrecorded voice vote and the amendment proposed by Sen. Van Winkle failed in the same way. The use of voice votes is regular procedure in the general assembly on first and second readings of bills. A recorded vote is only taken on the third reading, which is the final one. That happened the next day when every Democratic senator (except Priola) voted yes and every Republican senator voted no. Since the Democrats hold the majority, the bill passed.

fmiklin.villager@gmail.com