What started as a family trip for Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, to the Pawnee National Grasslands a month and a half ago ended up inspiring a bill that would change the concealed-carry age for members of the military in Colorado.
Cooke’s daughter, a 19-year-old member of the U.S. Army Reserves who just completed basic training, said despite her training, she wasn’t able to purchase a concealed carry permit as she was under age. Colorado law requires anyone applying for a concealed handgun permit to be 21.
“Here are these 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds who are in the army. They can be a door gunner and fire tanks. They can go overseas and defend us, but they can’t come back to Colorado and defend themselves with a concealed-carry permit,” Cooke said. “I think that’s wrong.”
Senate Bill 144 — which passed the Senate on third reading and was introduced to the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee Wednesday — would allow members of the military to hold a concealed carry permit at the age of 18.
The bill would amend the state requirement so that the applicant must either be 21 years old or 18 years old on active duty in, or honorably discharged from, any branch or reserve branch of the U.S. military, including the National Guard.
“They still have to go through the entire process, pay the fees and do everything everybody else does,” Cooke said.
Cooke said he hopes the bill will get through the Democratic-controlled House and noted Republicans have been doing negotiations with Democrats in the House.
“It’s a good opportunity for the House Democrats to say ‘we are reasonable on gun issues’,” he said. “This is an opportunity to say this is a reasonable gun bill and (they) want to appear reasonable on gun issues.”
Overall, Cooke said he has received feedback the bill isn’t too extreme to the right or left. However, Democrats have raised concern about the bill possibly raising the military suicide rate.
“I don’t think (that) excuse holds much water,” he said. “There are some (Democrats) who are just anti-gun.”
Among all branches of the military in 2013, members between the ages of 17 and 19 accounted for 14 of the 259 suicides, according to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report for 2013. That number compares to 95 suicides for those between the ages of 20-24 and 74 suicides in the 25- to 29-year-old age bracket.
While accounting for less numerically than other age brackets, the 17- to 19-year-old bracket has seen a small increase year-over-year from 2011 and 2012, which saw 12 and 10 suicides, respectively.
Within that category, young, white enlisted men between 17 and 24 were at the highest risk for dying by suicide in 2013.
More than 90 percent of those committing suicide were male, 75 percent were white and 42 percent were 17 to 24, according to the report.
Cooke argued, however, that lowering the concealed carry permit access wouldn’t intrinsically affect the suicide rate as 18-year-old servicemen and women could still possess firearms and open carry them.
“You’d have to be assuming that those people don’t already own guns (to make that correlation between suicide rate and concealed carry permits),” he said. “Federal law says you can possess one.”
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