Denver – A bill that would allow 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds in the armed forces to apply for a conceal carry permit, passed the Senate Judiciary committee 3-2, along party lines, on Monday.
The bill now goes to the Committee of the Whole.
Nicknamed “Lizzie’s Law” after the prime sponsor’s step daughter, the bill is a second attempt to allow military-trained Colorado residents to take advantage of personal protection already afforded those 21 and older. It was first introduced in 2016, where it passed in the Senate, but failed in the House State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee.
Sen. John Cooke, (R-Greeley) initially brought the bill last year after a conversation with his then 19-year-old stepdaughter, Lizzie Pryzgoda.
Pryzgoda, who enlisted in the Army Reserves after graduating high school, was telling Cooke about what was to come during a drill she was scheduled for the following month at Fort Carson. That drill including firing an M16 and a 50-calibe machine gun, among others.
“I got to thinking, half of her unit was deployed over in Afghanistan,” Cooke told the Judiciary Committee on Monday. “And I’m thinking, here are these 18-, 19-, 20-year-old adults that can go to Afghanistan, go to Iraq, defend our liberties, defend us, but they can’t come back to Colorado and defend themselves. Those young adults willing to put their lives on the line, who get shot at and possibly killed defending us, they should be able to defend themselves back here.”
Sen. Daniel Kagan, (D-Arapahoe) questioned whether there is a difference between a 19-year-old being supervised to carry a gun in the military and one who is walking the streets of Colorado Springs.
“That soldier is under very strict rules of engagement, very close supervision, they are part of a command structure,” Kagen said. “You couldn’t get a more organized situation. A 19-year-old who is not mature enough in many situations by our standards … They are not supervised when they are back stateside. Isn’t that a crucial difference?”
Cooke said no.
“When you are in combat, you might be supervised, but your supervisor might go down,” Cooke said. “It’s next man up. You have to be able to defend yourself there. And right now, on the streets of Colorado Springs, 18-year-olds can carry open. You can walk down Greeley, Loveland and just about any other municipality in this state, with a gun on your hip at 18, 19 or 20.”
Kagen agreed with Cooke’s statement but still voted no – along with fellow Democrat Rhonda Fields, who was absent for the testimony but returned for the vote.
Retired Colonel Roger Wilson also spoke against the bill, pointing out that the Department of Defense doesn’t allow concealed or open carry on military bases except in special cases, but in no cases by those under 21. He also was concerned that SB-006 was in violation of DOD rules such as possessing a weapon in federal buildings.
“This bill directly conflicts with the DOD policy,” Wilson said. “I believe if the Senator’s daughter were to walk onto a military base she would be prosecuted under the law.”
Cooke clarified that the bill doesn’t change existing laws in Colorado, such as the prohibiting of carrying in federal buildings and schools. He said 18- to 20-year-olds would not be able to carry anywhere those 21 and over cannot legally carry.
“This has nothing to do with federal reservations such as military bases because we don’t have jurisdiction over federal military bases, so they would not be able to carry it on there anyway. It only applies where any other citizens can carry.”
Although the bill doesn’t change already existing laws concerning the ability to carry, fire, and possess a handgun, most of those who testified against the bill testified on the usual anti-gun platform, including depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Order and suicide among military veterans, the idea that more guns don’t make society safer, that the brains of those under 21 are not fully developed, and that those with concealed carry are more likely to commit a crime or mass murder.
“We also have people who have never gone through a background check, have obtained a gun, have committed crimes and also suicide,” said Republican Senator Don Coram, who represents several communities in southwest Colorado. “I fail to get the value of that information.”
Under current state law, you must be 21 to purchase a handgun. However, the state allows for legal transfers of handguns in some cases, such as from a father or mother to their children. Once transferred, it is legal for 18-, 19- and 20-year olds to possess that gun and to carry that gun in open view anywhere it is legal to carry a gun.
Additionally, there are some cases already where an 18- to 20-year-old can apply for a conceal carry permit on an emergency basis, the length that permit is valid is determined on a case-by-case basis.
The only thing Lizzie’s Law would change is the ability of 18-20 year olds who are in the military to apply for a permit to conceal the handgun.
Several people in law enforcement and other legal genres testified on behalf of the bill, saying they are comfortable with military of any age being able to carry a concealed weapon.
Steve Reams, who replaced Cooke (who was term limited) in 2016 as Weld County Sheriff, lowered the cost of conceal carry permits in Weld after he took office. He did not testify for the bill, but in a subsequent interview agreed with those who were in favor.
“If you don’t think these people are going to spring into action in the event of a terrorist attack or other event, you’re crazy,” he said about military members during times they are off duty. “That is ingrained in them. Wouldn’t you rather they be able to spring into action with all the tools they have available to them? I would.”