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Background Checks and Colorado

1.22.2020

Summary

Colorado has already closed the unlicensed sale loophole, and state authorities regularly stop prohibited purchasers from making illegal gun purchases. Colorado has also been a leader in several other areas relating to firearm background checks, including closing the “Charleston Loophole,” notifying local authorities of all background check denials, and allowing law enforcement to deny carry permits to applicants who pose a danger to themselves or others.

Congress should follow Colorado’s lead and require background checks on all gun sales nationally. Existing loopholes in federal law undermine Colorado’s background check laws by enabling prohibited people in other states to take advantage of the unlicensed gun market, get armed illegally, and use those guns in crimes in Colorado.

Colorado closed the unlicensed sale loophole, requiring background checks on all gun sales in the state. Felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people attempt to buy guns regularly in Colorado — and are stopped only by a background check. 

  • Since 1998, nearly 85,000 sales to prohibited purchasers have been denied in Colorado – including over 35,000 illegal sales to convicted felons and nearly 6,000 illegal sales to prohibited domestic abusers.1Everytown obtained state-level NICS denial data via FOIA requests for each year between 1998 and 2018. Though the majority of the transactions and denials reported by the FBI are associated with a firearm sale or transfer, a small number may be for concealed carry permits and other reasons not related to a sale or transfer.
    • In 2013, Colorado closed the unlicensed sale loophole in the state.2Colorado House Bill 1229 (2013). In 2017 and 2018 alone, more than 500 sales by unlicensed sellers were blocked due to Colorado’s background check law, including people convicted of sexual assault, under restraining orders, and people prohibited due to mental illness.3Data were requested from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for 2017 and 2018. There were 290 sales by non-gun show unlicensed dealers that were denied in 2017 and 249 sales that were denied in 2018.
    • The Colorado Bureau of Investigation is responsible for all background checks at the point of purchase. The Colorado Legislature has been a leader in empowering CBI to stop illegal purchases. In addition to closing the unlicensed sale loophole, the Legislature has closed the “Charleston Loophole” by requiring CBI to deny a sale when a background check reveals an arrest or a charge for a prohibiting crime without a record of final disposition. Colorado law also requires state authorities to notify local law enforcement of every denial, so police may investigate those illegal attempted purchases.4C.R.S. 24-33.5-424(3)(b), (5)(a).
    • Only 1.8% of background checks were denied — meaning roughly 98% of Colorado purchases were not affected by the background check.5CBI InstaCheck Unit: Firearm Statistics, 2018. Lakewood, CO: Colorado Bureau of Investigation, Department of Public Safety, Firearms InstaCheck Unit. Available at https://bit.ly/2JnHoXk.

Colorado has closed the unlicensed sale loophole, meaning felons, domestic abusers, and other prohibited people cannot skip a background check and get armed simply by seeking an unlicensed seller at a gun show or online. But neighboring states have not closed this loophole and enable prohibited people to take advantage of the unlicensed gun market and get armed illegally. 

A recent study of the online gun market Armlist.com revealed a massive marketplace where unchecked gun sales are taking place between complete strangers meeting online, allowing criminals and other prohibited purchasers an easy avenue for access.

While Colorado requires a background check on all firearm sales, its law is only as good as the laws of its neighboring states. In 2018 alone, there were more than 54,000 ads on Armslist.com for firearm sales where no background check was required in Arizona and nearly 25,000 in Kansas.6Everytown for Gun Safety. Unchecked: Over 1 Million Online Firearm Ads, No Background Checks Required. February 2019. https://every.tw/2UXjYwf.

Background check laws make a difference in whether sellers will require a background check to complete a sale – only 6% of the unlicensed sellers in states without background check laws indicated they would require a background check on their sales, with 84% of sellers from states with background check laws directly stating the sale would need a check. In Colorado specifically, 80% of sellers indicated they would require a background check.7Ibid.


Congress’s failure to close the unlicensed sale loophole nationally enables gun trafficking and the use of crime guns in Colorado.

Existing loopholes in the federal background check law are negatively impacting states, like Colorado, that have closed the background check loophole. Research has shown that state laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales are associated with 48 percent lower rates of gun trafficking in cities and 29 percent lower rates of gun trafficking across state lines.8Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health. 2009. 86(4):525–537; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, & Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. 2013.Vol. 9781421411118, pp. 109-121.

Between 2014 and 2017, over 4,000 crime guns were recovered in Colorado that originated in other states. Seventy-seven percent of these crime guns were traced back to states that do not have comprehensive background check laws.9Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Firearms trace data. https://bit.ly/2nigapL. Totals were developed using four years of most recent available data (2014 to 2017) after Colorado closed the unlicensed sale loophole. This excludes crime guns recovered in CO, in DE in 2013, WA in 2013 and 2014, and OR in 2013-2015.

And the unregulated, online marketplace has enabled prohibited purchasers to weaken state background check laws by traveling to neighboring states without these laws. Between 2016 and 2017, three individuals were arrested for trafficking an estimated 90 firearms purchased on Armslist.com and Facebook into Illinois from Kentucky. These firearms were subsequently linked to violent crimes in Illinois.10Yablon A. Chicago felons busted for gun trafficking bought weapons via Armslist and Facebook. The Trace. May 16, 2018. Available at https://bit.ly/2FJpTja.


Colorado has also served as a model for background checks in the concealed carry permitting arena.

Colorado law enforcement are authorized to deny or revoke concealed carry permits when a background check reveals that a person poses a threat to themselves or others — authority they have used more than 450 times between 2013 and 2015 alone.11Report to the Colorado General Assembly, Concealed Handgun Permits Issued by Colorado Sheriffs in 2013; Report to the Colorado General Assembly, Concealed Handgun Permits Issued by Colorado Sheriffs in 2014; Report to the Colorado General Assembly, Concealed Handgun Permits Issued by Colorado Sheriffs in 2015.

Colorado has also resisted gun lobby efforts to repeal its permit system altogether, rejecting “permitless carry” bills in the 2016, 2017, and 2018 legislative sessions, the most recent sessions in which the legislation was introduced.


Too many Coloradoans are killed with guns.

Every year, more than 700 Coloradoans are killed with guns and thousands more are shot and injured.12Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) Fatal Injury Reports. A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2013 to 2017.

State laws requiring background checks for all handgun sales – by point-of-sale check and/or permit – are associated with lower firearm homicide rates, lower firearm suicide rates and lower firearm trafficking.13Siegel M, Boine C. What are the most effective policies in reducing firearm homicides? Rockefeller Government Institute. 2019; Fleegler EW, Lee LK, Monuteaux MC, Hemenway D, Mannix R. Firearm legislation and firearm-related fatalities in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. 2013; 173(9):732-740; Webster DW, Vernick JS, Bulzacchelli MT. Effects of state-level firearm seller accountability policies on firearm trafficking. Journal of Urban Health. 2009. 86(4):525–537; Federal law bars felons from having firearms, but does not bar misdemeanors outside the domestic violence context. Webster DW, Vernick JS, McGinty EE, & Alcorn T. Preventing the diversion of guns to criminals through effective firearm sales laws. In Reducing Gun Violence in America: Informing Policy with Evidence and Analysis. 2013.Vol. 9781421411118, pp. 109-121. A 2019 analysis found that states with laws requiring background checks for all gun sales are associated with a 10 percent lower homicide rates.14Siegel M, Boine C. What are the most effective policies in reducing firearm homicides? Rockefeller Government Institute. 2019.

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