Open firearms at Colorado polls could be banned under bill

Openly carried firearms, while legal in much of Colorado, are set to be banned at ballot boxes and polling places as lawmakers try to appease the minds of voters who may feel threatened by armed people when they vote.

Under the Democrat-led Fearless Voting Act, it would be an offense to openly carry a firearm at or within 100 feet of a ballot box, building with a polling place, center central counting center or other locations where election administration takes place.

It would exempt private property owners who openly carry firearms on their property and law enforcement officers. The ban also does not include concealed firearms.

The law project, HB22-1086, passed its first committee Monday on a party-line vote. The House Public, Civic, Military, and Veterans Affairs Committee sent the bill to the entire House of Representatives for consideration, with seven Democrats in favor and four Republicans opposed.

Supporters argued that some people openly carried guns as tools of intimidation and cited the country’s history of Jim Crow-era voter suppression and the current discourse on election laws and lies about the 2020 presidential election.

“We have a long history of people being bullied with guns, and frankly, the people who tend to bully bring them for a reason, because of how the outcome could be final,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, godfather.

Supporters of the bill included local election officials including Adams County Clerk and Recorder Josh Zygielbaum saying he wears a body armor on occasion and Denver County Clerk and recorder Paul D. López comparing some of the intimidation efforts to terrorists when people can’t tell if the armed people are friend or foe.

Sponsoring Rep. Tom Sullivan, D-Centennial, called the bill a right to vote, not a right to guns.

“We’re not taking anything away from anyone,” Sullivan said. “We just want people who are there to vote to be able to vote freely.”

While the bill aims to help voters who might feel intimidated by openly armed people at polling stations, its opponents have widely questioned the opposite: what about people who fear areas where only those willing to flout the law are armed?

“Frankly, I fear gun-free zones, and this bill basically creates fear for people who believe the same as I do,” said Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, a committee member.

Neville cited the shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch, which he called a “gun-free zone,” where two students killed classmate Kendrick Castillo and injured eight others in 2019.

Although the bill does not prohibit people from carrying authorized concealed firearms into polling stations, some gun owners are reluctant to register for fear of landing on a government database, Neville said.

Rep. Dan Woog, R-Erie, a member of the committee, questioned why the bill was so narrowly limited to guns and not other weapons that could be wielded openly, such as bats. Measures like this exploit people’s fear of taking liberties and handing over power to the government in return, he said.

Rep. Mary Bradfield, R-Colorado Springs, spoke out against voter intimidation but said her constituents sent her to Capitol Hill to protect their Second Amendment rights.

“Voter intimidation is wrong at any time. It was wrong in the past, it’s wrong today and it will be wrong in the next election,” Bradfield said. “…But I see what is happening here with the passage of this bill is what my constituents will see as their Second Amendment rights begin to be eroded. It’s embarassing.