A Republican going before the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee with any legislation — let alone a gun bill — doesn’t usually leave happy. They don’t call it the kill committee for nothing, and Democrats have a 6-3 supermajority.
But Rep. Larry Liston, a Republican from Colorado Springs, pulled off that rare feat with rare compromise on issues pertaining to guns. He had the help of a Democratic co-sponsor, Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara.
Even a Republican running for attorney general, George Brauchler, thinks the legislation is part of a bigger conversation on guns and public safety in Colorado.
House Bill 1077 would increase penalties for burglars who take guns, ammunition or accessories from a class 4 to a class 3 felony. The bill passed its first hearing in the Democrat-led House on a 7-2 vote. It heads next to the appropriations committee, before it can go to the full House for a floor deliberation and votes. Then it must survive a narrowly split Senate with a GOP majority.
In other words, the cold war on gun rights vs. public safety is a long way from over, even for this bill. Two Democrats voted against the bill in committee: Reps. Jovan Melton of Denver and Adrienne Benavidez of Commerce City.
Liston recounted a series of smash-and-grab burglaries at dozens of Colorado gun stores and pawn shops last year when burglars executed elaborate gun thefts by driving stolen vehicles through the front of stores, gathering as much as they could and taking off in another vehicle.
“As a strong supporter of our Second Amendment rights I became alarmed that these firearms could be sold on the black market and could be used against our citizens or our law enforcement officers, whom we all support,” he said.
Liston said his bill isn’t about being for or against guns, but it’s a “solidly anti-crime bill.”
This is a fairly common crime. Bill analysts founds that from January 2015 to January 2018, 4,043 people were sentenced for committing second-degree burglary. Researchers estimated that the extra prison time could cost taxpayers an extra $1.4 million over the first five years.
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, said he hoped the legislation could be common ground to build on to address gun violence.
“This is the beginning I hope of a conversation about something we can do to prevent the proliferation of gun violence here in our community and across the country,” he said.
Sullivan ran unsuccessfully for the state Senate as a Democrat in Arapahoe County in 2016.
Another supporter of the bill is Brauchler, the district attorney for Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties. He prosecuted Aurora theater gunman James Holmes.
“It’s the right step to take,” he said. “It’s not the only step we might end up having to take, and I agree with Mr. Sullivan, it’s part of a bigger conversation.”
He added, “What I like about this bill is it gives me as a prosecutor another tool in my toolbox to try to distinguish between someone who might steal a laptop and someone who might steal something that could be used to take another person’s life or commit another crime down the road.”
Brauchler said those who steal guns have a clear intentions. He has no problems singling out guns as a particularly dangerous kind of weapon.
“I think for stealing knives, there might be 100 million uses for knives that aren’t quite as risky as the potential uses for a firearm,” he told the committee. “And I think we’re at a place where what we’re saying is if you’re breaking into a gun shop or a pawn shop to steal guns it’s probably not to go duck hunting.”