DENVER — The first of four major gun bills at the Colorado legislature this session faced its first committee test on Monday.
House Bill 23-1219 calls for a three-day waiting period between the time a background check is initiated or when the purchase is approved following any background check. Sellers who fail to comply will face a civil infraction punishable by a $500 fine for the first offense and a $500 to $5,000 fine for subsequent offenses.
At the bill’s first House committee hearing, there was a back-and-forth between supporters and opponents of the legislation over evidence supporting the effectiveness of a waiting period.
The bill cites a 2017 study that was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in its justification for the legislation.
Chris Poliquin, an assistant professor at UCLA’s Anders School of Management, was a co-author of that study, which concluded that mandatory waiting periods resulted in a seven to 11 percent reduction in suicides by firearm and a 17 percent reduction in homicides by firearm.
“We think that rolling out waiting periods more broadly across the United States would potentially save hundreds of lives every year,” said Poliquin.
The study looked at 45 years worth of data from the 1970s through 2014 and found that 44 states had imposed a waiting period at some point. A number of states had temporarily imposed a waiting period when the Brady Act was passed by Congress in 1994.
It required a five-day waiting period for firearm purchases for states that didn’t already have some sort of background check process in place. The idea was to give the dealer time to run a federal background check on the purchaser.
The law lasted until 1998 when the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was implemented. Because of that legislation, Poliquin and his team were able to study firearm deaths in states before the wait period was implemented, deaths during the four-year mandatory waiting period implementation and deaths after waiting periods were lifted.
For the average state, the study concluded that waiting periods of some length could result in 36 fewer gun homicides per year and 22 to 35 fewer gun suicides per year.
“Even a pretty short waiting period could be pretty effective,” Poliquin said.
The study did not conclude, however, whether a shorter or longer waiting period was more effective.
During Monday’s committee hearing, the study was cited repeatedly by supporters of the legislation. Opponents, on the other hand, questioned the study itself and the data, instead bringing up other studies that show wait periods having a more limited effect.
Several opponents of the bill brought up research on wait periods compiled by the Rand Corporation, which determined evidence that waiting periods reduce firearm suicides is moderate while evidence that they reduce firearm homicides is limited.
“There's kind of a real lack of rigorous research on these topics, unfortunately,” Poliquin said.
Poliquin would like to see more research done in the area, but says even with a definitive set of data, he believes there would still be philosophical debates about whether enacting more gun legislation is the right thing to do. Nevertheless, he’s happy that lawmakers are reading his work.
“At the end of the day, I think it can only enrich the debate to have more facts and more research on the table when these policy decisions are being made,” he said.
Colorado’s legislation would not apply to the sale of an antique firearm or a relic. It would also not apply to the sale of a firearm by someone in the Armed Forces who will be deployed outside of the United States within the next 30 days to an immediate family member or to a firearm transfer for which a background check is not required.
The bill also stipulates that local governments can pass ordinances that would make the waiting period longer than the one described in the bill.
It passed its first committee test Monday. If the bill makes its way through the full legislature, Colorado would become the 10th state to enact a waiting period.