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Colorado House approves firearm bills related to liability insurance, dealer licensure

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Sara Wilson

(Colorado Newsline) The Colorado House of Representatives passed three firearm-related bills over the weekend, including what would be a first-in-the-nation requirement for gun owners to carry liability insurance.

The trio is part of a handful of gun bills making their way through the Democrat-controlled Legislature that would place additional requirements on firearm owners in the state.

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The bills will now head to the Senate, which has until May 8 to vote on them before the end of session. Only a few gun-related bills have cleared both chambers so far, including one to strengthen concealed carry permit requirements and one to require safe gun storage in cars.

A proposed ban on “assault weapons” passed the House and has been introduced in the Senate, but it is awaiting a hearing with the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. That could come this week.

House Bill 24-1270 would require gun owners to maintain a liability insurance policy for damages that result from an accidental discharge. That coverage could be wrapped up into renters and homeowners insurance.

It passed on a narrow 33-29 vote, with 12 Democrats joining Republicans against it, including House Speaker Julie McCluskie.

Supporters say it would drive more responsible gun ownership and safe storage practices.

“This bill will largely recreate the existing system for covering swimming pools, a hazard that creates tragically similar threats to public safety and should be treated similarly by the insurance market,” bill sponsor Representative Iman Jodeh, an Aurora Democrat, said.

Representative Steven Woodrow, a Denver Democrat, also sponsored the bill.

The insurance would allow a third party to be compensated if they are injured or their property is damaged from an unintentional shooting.

No state has required firearm liability insurance, though a few others are considering it this year. On a municipal level, San Jose, California, enacted an insurance ordinance last year, but the city has not been enforcing it or collecting data on compliance. That ordinance withstood a legal challenge last summer.

Opponents argued that the bill unfairly singles out firearm owners for an additional insurance commitment for an uncommon occurrence.

“This bill is about accidents. They occur so infrequently that it doesn’t merit its own special category of insurance,” Representative Matt Soper, a Delta Republican, said.

House Bill 24-1353 would require firearm dealers to obtain a state license, in addition to the federal license they need to conduct business. It would also mandate background checks for employees and training on current gun regulations and how to spot fraudulent activity.

Dealer conduct has a direct bearing on whether guns are diverted to the illegal market or made available to individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or another.

– Representative Andrew Boesenecker

The duplicative process could allow the state to fill in a gap of infrequent inspections and lax enforcement from the federal government, sponsors said. It would affect about 1,500 firearms dealers, or about 70 percent of the dealers in the state.

The license fee would be $400.

“We’re not proposing anything onerous or out of the scope of what is reasonable to conduct such a business in the state of Colorado,” bill sponsor Representative Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat, said, noting that businesses like early learning centers, health care facilities and processing plants have to pay licensing fees and have employees undergo regular training.

Fifteen states currently require gun dealers to have a state-issued license, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Firearms dealers in our state play a critical role as gatekeepers to those wishing to acquire firearms. Dealer conduct has a direct bearing on whether guns are diverted to the illegal market or made available to individuals who are at risk of harming themselves or another,” bill sponsor Representative Andrew Boesenecker, a Fort Collins Democrat, said.

Republicans argued that the bill, in addition to being redundant, ignores the reality that criminals often obtain guns illegally, not through a licensed firearm dealer. They worry that additional licensing fees and requirements could drive businesses out of Colorado.

“The federal law enforcement has this under control, so we need to let them do that and quit putting more and more hindrances on our business owners,” Representative Ryan Armagost, a Berthoud Republican, said. “Next, it could be a county permit or a municipal permit. This isn’t going to stop.”

The bill passed on a 40-21 vote.

Finally, the House passed House Bill 24-1349, which would ask voters to approve a new 11 percent excise tax on firearms dealers, firearms manufacturers, and ammunition vendors beginning in 2025. New taxes have to be approved by voters in Colorado.

The majority of the revenue would be used for the state’s crime victim services fund. Money would also go towards victims and witnesses assistance, mass tragedy response and shooting range safety programs.

It was sponsored by Majority Leader Monica Duran of Wheat Ridge and Rep Meg Froelich of Englewood, both Democrats. It passed on a 44-18 vote.

Colorado Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.