DENVER — Hundreds of Coloradans flooded the State Capitol on Monday to make their voices heard on seven Democratic gun proposals, mostly in opposition to the measures.
Those that didn’t formally testify before the two Senate committees hearing the bills made their opposition, felt with their sheer presence — and with the constant volume of their honking horns on the streets that encircle the Capitol, a steady din in the background of these proceedings that lasted from dawn until well past dark.
And those opponents, some of whom drove from as far as Lamar to be here Monday, got a bitter taste of the current political reality — that Democrats, by virtue of winning November’s elections, control each of those Senate committees and, for the most part, the fate of these seven bills.
Powerless to stop them, opponents could only tweet, honk and shake their heads as the bills, one by one, were approved by the committees on a 3-2 party-line vote.
Dudley Brown, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, made explicit the threat of political repercussions expressed by so many opponents to these measures, himself threatening to financially support whoever challenges one of the Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee who supports the package of bills.
But Monday belonged to the Democratic majorities and to the many faces of gun violence — Tom Mauser, Jane Dougherty and Mark Kelly — who have all seen loved ones killed or injured in mass shootings, who all came to the Capitol Monday to tell their stories and urge lawmakers to take action, however fierce the opposition.
With testimony on each bill limited to 90 minutes for proponents and opponents alike, each hearing took more than three hours.
Finally, around 10:30 p.m., the final bill, banning online certification for concealed carry permit training, passed out of the Senate Judiciary Committee, ending a day-long spectacle and setting the stage for another long day Friday, when all seven bills are scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor.
The hearing for Senate Bill 195 was, at just over an hour, the shortest, least controversial hearing of the day.
Senate Bill 196: Assault Weapons Liability
Just after 9 p.m., lawmakers on the same panel approved a controversial proposal that would make assault weapons manufacturers and retailers liable for crimes.
“No one needs an assault rifle,” said the sponsor, Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs. “Society pays the price when one of these weapons falls into the wrong hands.
“Someone made a profit letting these weapons onto our streets but they don’t’ ever have to absorb the cost for the damage they cause.”
One gun owner, who waited several hours to testify, put it bluntly, telling Morse that his bill “pisses [her] off”.
House Bill 1226: Concealed carry campus ban
Meanwhile, a few moments later, the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, meeting one floor above, passed its third and final bill of the day, House Bill 1226, which seeks to ban concealed weapons on college campuses.
During the hearing, lawmakers heard from two women who were raped on college campuses and who argued against the ban, telling lawmakers that they might have been able to fight off their attackers were they carrying concealed weapons.
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, told that witness, Amanda Collins, that statistics were “not in [her] favor”.
“Women are more likely to have those guns used against them,” Hudak said at the end of the hearing, clarifying a position that several conservative commentators took issue with as the hearing went on.
Tearing up, Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, who chairs the committee, acknowledged the difficulty of voting for the proposal after hearing emotional testimony from victims, but said that she’s promised her constituents she would.
Republicans blasted the vote.
“This vote is extremely disturbing,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “The women who came here and shared their personal stories of rape and assault have just been victimized again by their own government.”
House Bill 1224: High-capacity magazine ban
One of the most controversial proposals of the seven, House Bill 1224, which bans high-capacity magazines of 15 rounds or more, got the go-ahead from the Senate Judiciary Committee just before 6 p.m. as groans from the mostly opposed crowd filled the Old Supreme Court Chamber.
The legislation, which was amended so as not to ban shotguns and to exempt law enforcement officers, heads to the full Senate for a vote that’s likely to take place this Friday.
During the nearly four-hour hearing, relatives of those killed in mass shootings spoke passionately in support of the bill; and opponents, including a number of Colorado sheriffs were just as emotional.
The CEO of Magpul Industries, a manufacturer of high-capacity magazines based in Erie, reiterated the company’s threat to leave the state if the bill becomes law.
“Making products that are illegal here in Colorado is counter to our values,” said Richard Fitzpatrick, the founder and CEO of Magpul.
Lawmakers in the House, which has already approved the bill, added an amendment that would allow the company to continue making high-capacity magazines here for sales and use in other states.
And Dudley Brown, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the state’s most strident gun rights group, was gaveled out of order by the committee chair after threatening to financially support whoever runs against Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Adams County, who voted in favor of the ban.
The mostly opposed crowd in the Old Supreme Court chamber cheered Brown as he walked off.
House Bill 1228: background check fees
A few minutes earlier, House Bill 1228, which will require gun buyers to pay for their own background checks, cleared the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which has been meeting simultaneously upstairs, on a 3-2 party-line vote.
The proposal, sponsored by Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, would make gun buyers pay a $10 or $12 fee for a Colorado Bureau of Investigation instant background check.
The Senate SVMA Committee is now set to begin debate on its final bill of the day, a concealed weapons ban on college campuses.
Senate Bill 197: Gun restrictions for domestic violence offenders
Earlier in the day, legislation that would force convicted domestic violence offenders and anyone subject to a restraining order to relinquish their guns to law enforcement became the first of the seven Democratic gun control bills being heard Monday to get the go-ahead.
The Senate Judiciary Committee, after three hours of emotional and at times wrenching public testimony, passed Senate Bill 197 on a party-line, 3-2 vote and heads now to the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“This bill is more than a ‘feel-good’,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, the bill’s sponsor, in response to arguments from opponents. “I will feel good when fewer people die, when an abuser doesn’t have a gun to kill them.”
S.B. 197 was the first of four gun control measures scheduled to be heard by the five-member Judiciary Committee Monday.
House Bill 1229: Universal background checks
Around 3 p.m., lawmakers upstairs on the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs voted to approve House Bill 1229, which will require universal background checks for all gun purchases and transfers, the first of three bills being considered by that panel.
Lawmakers amended the bill so that transfers between family members do not require a background check for the first 72 hours.
That vote was also 3-2 and right down party lines.
Huge crowd of mostly opponents flood the Capitol
Hundreds of people began filling the Capitol’s hallways and hearing rooms early Monday morning, waiting to testify on seven Democratic gun bills that are being heard by two, separate Senate committees.
Gun owners who oppose the various proposals, which include a ban on high-capacity magazines, universal background checks, and a measure to make assault weapons manufacturers and sellers criminally liable for crimes, flooded the Capitol, the sidewalks outside and even the air above, with a circling airplane trailing a sign pleading Gov. John Hickenlooper not to “take our guns.”
And since the hearings got underway, a persistent wail of honking horns and car alarms has been heard inside the hearing rooms, signaling the determination of some opponents, many frustrated at the limited time allowed for official testimony, to make their opposition heard.
Proponents of the bills also launched an intense public relations blitz, starting the day with a press conference featuring several victims of mass shootings: former space shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, the husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords; Patricia Maisich, one of three people who tackled Giffords’ shooter as he was reloading; Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was killed at Columbine; Dave Hoover, whose nephew, A.J. Boik, was one of 12 people killed last July inside Aurora’s Century 16 Theater; and Jane Dougherty, whose sister, Mary Sherlach, was killed at Sandy Hook School last December, along with 20 first-graders.
Mark Kelly testifies in support of universal background checks
Kelly testified in support of House Bill 1229, which will require background checks on all private gun sales, the first bill heard by the SVMA Committee Monday.
“We don’t come to the debate on gun violence as victims,” he said. “We offer our voices as Americans. We’re moderates. We’re both gun owners. And we take that right and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously.”
Kelly told the story of his wife’s shooting two Januarys ago, and of her difficult recovery; he noted that the alleged shooter, Jared Lee Loughner, bought his weapon after passing a background check, despite his mental health records already having disqualified him for military service and being kicked out of school.
“He should not have passed a background check,” Kelly said, when pressed on that point by Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa. “The Army knew he was a heavy drug user. His records should have been in the system. He should have failed a background check. But had that happened, he still would have had another option, to go down the street, get online, and buy a weapon.
“The breadth and complexity of gun violence is great. But that is not an excuse for inaction.”
Kelly compared having loopholes for background checks on private sales and, in many other states, at gun shows to having two different security lines at the airport.
“If there’s no security in one of the lines, which one do you think the terrorist will choose?” he said.
Sandy Hook victim’s sister also backs universal background checks
CBI Director Ron Sloan, Aurora Police Chief Dan Oates and Jane Dougherty, whose sister, Mary Sherlach, was the school pyschologist killed at Sandy Hook School last December, also testified in support of universal background checks.
“I hear that some think universal background checks is a burden. I’d like to speak directly to them,” said Dougherty, who lives in Littleton.
“A burden is hearing about a mass shooting in Connecticut, working with your family through the chaos to coinfirm it is your sister’s school; a burden is getting a call from your niece: ‘we lost her.’
“A burden is everything that comes after this horrific news, explaining a mass shooting to your 10 year old son.”
“A background check is not a burden. It will save lives,” Dougherty told the committee. “Maybe even your family’s.”
Dave Hoover, whose nephew A.J. Boik was killed inside the Aurora movie theater last July, also testified in support of universal background checks.
“I’m a Republican,” said Hoover, a detective. “Many men and women I work with want to see a difference made in the state. We want to see our Republican representatives do the right thing.
“It’s time for us to make a difference.”
Dougherty, Hoover and Tom Mauser, whose son, Daniel, was killed at Columbine, also testified later Monday in support of the high-capacity magazine ban.
Opponents begin testimony with murder victim’s daughter
The daughter of a murder victim of Gary Davis, the last man executed by the state of Colorado in 1997, was the first person to testify against universal background checks.
Krista said that she opposes all gun controls and believes that had her mother had a gun to defend herself she might be alive today.
“Background checks won’t stop the next Gary Davis,” Krista said. “They’ll just make my world less safe.”
A group of sheriffs, many from rural counties, spoke against background checks, with one representative, Sheriff John Cooke of Weld County, speaking as a group of supporing sheriffs, all in uniform, stood quietly behind him.
“It seems mostly like Denver metro area sheriffs who are supporting this,” Cooke said. “We know there are a lot of chiefs and line level police officers throughout the state who don’t support these bills.”
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