DENVER — Colorado’s gun control debate is moving out of the state Capitol and straight to voters.
A group of gun control supporters got permission Thursday to start gathering signatures for a ballot measure to ban concealed weapons on public college campuses.
The decision comes as Democratic leaders in state government insist they don’t want to pass any new gun laws this year, seeking to move on from a divisive year mired in gun debates that prompted recalls of two lawmakers and the resignation of a third.
A campus ban was among the gun ideas Democrats advanced last year. Colorado and Utah are the only states that allow concealed weapons on public college and university campuses. Colorado’s highest court sided with gun activists in 2010 and ordered all campuses to allow concealed weapons.
The state Legislature considered changing the law, and a bill cleared the Democratic House. But the measure was shelved in the Democratic Senate after Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak challenged a rape victim who testified that she should have had a gun to protect herself.
Hudak resigned in November rather than face a recall campaign certain to feature that exchange.
The sponsor of the failed ban, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, said Thursday he didn’t plan to revive the idea in the legislative term that starts next week.
“We’ve been there, done that,” Heath said.
Ballot measure supporters say lawmakers have been cowed by gun rights activists. They say their measure can win a statewide vote.
Gun activists “spent months and months intimidating everyone down there last year, and they can’t do this to the citizens,” said Ken Toltz, a supporter of the ballot measure who testified for it Thursday at the state board that approved language for the measure.
Supporters now have six months to gather about 86,000 signatures to put it on the ballot. If it wins voter approval, the measure would add public colleges and universities to a state law that bans concealed weapons at K-12 schools.
David Kopel, an attorney at Denver’s conservative Independence Institute, helped argue on the side of gun right activists in the 2010 case.
He said the campus gun ban has failed in the Legislature for good reason, and would fail with voters as well.
“It’s important for public safety that people are able to defend themselves on a college campus same as anywhere else,” Kopel said.