How We Won in Colorado: A Decade of Rewriting the Narrative
“Supporting this bill is the clear choice in order to prioritize public safety, which is ultimately why we elected you all,” said Students Demand Action leader Grace Taub while testifying on a bill that would require waiting periods for gun purchases in March of 2023. “But I wanted to make it clear: We want Colorado to be the leader for sensible gun safety laws in America.”
Seven Students Demand Action volunteers testified that day—which was, nonetheless, a school day. A little over a month later, Grace and other Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action leaders stood with Colorado Governor Jared Polis as he signed the bill into law.
A decade ago, extremist gun groups held tremendous power in the state legislature and stood in the way of life-saving action. But after delivering hundreds of hours of testimony, speaking to legislators relentlessly and holding them accountable at the ballot box, and registering thousands of young people to vote, our movement has become bigger, stronger, and more diverse than we could have imagined.
We’ve passed life-saving laws like Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and we’ve worked to strengthen those laws to save even more lives. We are students and youth activists, we are survivors, we are moms, and we are Coloradans—and we’re not stopping here—because we know it’s working.
Following the horrific mass shooting at an Aurora movie theater in 2012, Colorado passed laws requiring background checks for all firearm sales, keeping guns from the hands of domestic abusers, and banning large-capacity magazines. At that point, the gun lobby wasn’t used to losing and they struck back, recalling two state senators.
But we weren’t about to give up.
In 2018, we helped elect gun sense champions like Governor Jared Polis and Colorado State Senator Tom Sullivan—a former Moms Demand Action volunteer whose son, Alex, was shot and killed in Aurora—who helped pass an Extreme Risk Protection law. These critical laws empower loved ones or law enforcement to intervene and temporarily prevent someone in crisis from accessing firearms.
Noting his success at championing gun safety legislation, the gun lobby tried to recall Tom Sullivan in 2019, but we shut them down.
And we didn’t stop there: In 2021, we helped pass SIX major gun safety bills into law—from secure storage to reporting lost and stolen guns to strengthening laws to disarming domestic abusers.
Colorado also became the first state in the nation to repeal preemption, which unleashed a flurry of grassroots action during which our volunteers and supporters went town by town, city by city to make communities safer by passing local ordinances to ban assault weapons, raise the age to purchase firearms, prohibit open carry, and so much more.
We also showed up at the ballot box in 2022, with Students Demand Action and Moms Demand Action volunteers canvassing, phonebanking, and registering voters across Colorado to galvanize the election of gun sense candidates that helped us pass even more critical legislation in 2023.
And while 2023 has been a year marked by tragedy and loss, we have come together and channeled our resilience and power, showing up time and time again to honor those whose lives were stolen by senseless acts of gun violence with action.
This school year alone, the students of Denver East High School have faced shooting threats, countless lockdowns, a targeted swatting incident, the shootings of two students, and then the death of a classmate, 16-year-old Luis Garcia.
More than 1,000 students, educators, and Students Demand Action volunteers converged on the Denver statehouse for an advocacy day. The students walked through the city, holding signs and chanting, culminating in a rally on the Capitol West Steps where Students Demand Action volunteers, Luis’ soccer teammates, and members of East High’s student council spoke to the crowd, calling for action on gun safety.
Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers worked together to meet with legislators, thanking them for their leadership on gun safety and urging them to take action on the life-saving legislative package introduced this spring.
And in response to a shooting of two administrators by a student, Students Demand Action volunteers once again took to the statehouse to testify for gun violence prevention bills. Joined by Denver East Students Demand Action leaders, we rallied at the Capitol for lawmakers to take further action on gun safety.
After the horrifying Covenant School shooting on March 27, 2023 in Tennessee, Students Demand Action volunteers refused to stand idly by and walked out at more than 50 schools in Colorado. We testified on several gun violence prevention bills including waiting periods, raising the age, expanding the state’s Extreme Risk Protection Order law, prohibiting ghost guns and assault weapons, and holding the gun industry accountable.
And our advocacy worked. Governor Jared Polis has already signed four gun safety bills into law this year, and he is expected to sign the ghost guns bill, making this a landmark legislative session for gun violence prevention.
Here are some other ways our incredible Students Demand Action leaders in Colorado are turning the tide toward gun violence prevention work:
- Denver East held a month-long voter registration effort, visiting every senior classroom on the last day of the registration deadline to register seniors. In recognition of their efforts, students at Denver East were awarded the Eliza Pickrell Routt Award for registering 85 percent or more of eligible students to vote by the Colorado Deputy Secretary of State.
- Students hosted a community summit to discuss how gun violence is impacting their community and what solutions they can look forward to with community leaders like the Denver East principal and local legislators.
- Students have met with Governor Polis, Senator Bennett, Senator Hickenlooper, the Mayor of Denver, and a slew of representatives from the Colorado statehouse.
- AND students have TRIPLED the number of Students Demand Action groups in Denver over the last year alone!
We know we need to keep going, because we want Colorado to remain the leader for sensible gun safety laws in America, as Grace said in March.
And we know we’ll get it done, because the gun lobby cannot outwork or out-organize Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers. Just look at Colorado, which is now one of the strongest states in the country on gun safety!
That didn’t happen overnight. That didn’t happen by accident.
That happened because Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers mobilized, organized, and elected lawmakers who are committed to making our communities safer.