As I sit under the beautiful golden dome of the Colorado State Capitol, I am sometimes reminded of my previous life. For a season, I was a teacher and, thanks to the great people I worked with, I was often a learner as well. One of the things you learn in public education is that "fairness" matters a lot to young people. In a classroom, you realize that "the punishment has to fit the crime" (so to speak), and that you have to stick to your word — if the penalty for disrupting a class is five minutes in "time out," you can be sure that upping the stakes to five minutes plus giving a student an F on a report card would be met with unhappiness and perhaps a parent meeting.
Fairness is supposed to matter a lot in the Capitol, too — but the just-passed House Bill 1298 fails the fairness test. Under 1298, a person convicted of a misdemeanor, such as abandoning a cat, would lose the right to obtain a firearm. Is that fair?
As a country we have always recognized the difference between felonies and misdemeanors. Felonies are typically big crimes that threaten people with time in a state or federal prison and the loss of the constitutional rights to vote and possess a firearm. That does not mean misdemeanors are unimportant. But in America we let people make mistakes, even bad ones, without taking away their most fundamental rights.
Throughout this session, the House majority has argued that criminals deserve third, fourth, and fifth chances. House Bill 1214 was passed to enable people with criminal backgrounds, including those with multiple convictions for misdemeanors and felonies, to seal their records. House Bill 1209 gave people convicted of murder and serious mayhem while young opportunities to get out of prison. Over in the Senate, the majority sought to pass a bill that would have effectively immunized high school offenders from arrest for a wide range of criminal acts like sexual battery, indecent assault, major property destruction and more so long as they were committed on school property (Senate Bill 182).
Against the backdrop of multiple bills that lessen or mitigate criminal penalties, House Bill 1298 was introduced. Instead of reducing consequences, this bill increased them dramatically for people with certain misdemeanors by infringing upon the unalienable right a person has to defend herself or her family.
Americans treasure their rights, especially those rights that are not granted by a government but belong naturally to each and every one of us. The right to protect ourselves and the people we love is such a right and is spelled out most clearly in Article II of the Colorado Constitution and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Because we love our children and families, we do all we can to protect them. We should not hinder people with misdemeanors from protecting themselves or their families. We should not punish non-felons like felons. That punishment does not fit the crime, and I suspect even my students would recognize that.
Stephanie Luck, a Penrose Republican, represents House District 47 in the Colorado General Assembly.