DENVER — After spending so much political capital to pass a package of controversial gun laws last year, Democrats at the Capitol aren’t going back.
A week after Senate Democrats voted down a Republican proposal to roll back last year’s law expanding background checks to private gun sales, House Democrats followed suit on Monday, killing off a GOP bill that aimed to overturn the ban on magazines of more than 15 rounds.
At the end of a five-hour hearing that offered everyone who showed up a chance to testify, the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee voted down the proposal on a 7-4 party-line vote, preserving the magazine ban passed last year.
“It’s an attempt to reduce the carnage,” said Jane Dougherty, whose sister was among 26 people killed at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. in December, 2012.
Democrats again relied heavily on the emotional heft of testimony from Dougherty and others whose loved ones have been killed in mass shootings — what was, last year, geared toward passing legislation is, this year, focused on defending it.
“We have to look at what would be effective,” said Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, one of several lawmen who again argued against the magazine ban. “We have to take the emotion out of it. No matter what the intention was, this did not change our safety in our community.”
Unlike the background checks measure, which has broad public support, the magazine ban has voters — and lawmakers — almost evenly divided.
“This is the one bill of the entire package that should have been repealed,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, who sponsored the repeal measure, House Bill 1151. “This is the one bill that upset people in Pueblo and Colorado Springs, that drove those recall efforts.”
The legislation has 45 co-sponsors, and Holbert told lawmakers that five other lawmakers would vote yes on it should it advance, which he admitted was unlikely.
After more than a thousand gun owners showed up for last year’s hearing, most of whom weren’t able to testify, this year’s hearing was, at least for Holbert, an opportunity for those same people to have their voices heard.
But the Old Supreme Court chambers, where the hearing took place, was just more than half full when the hearing began, perhaps an indication that passions have cooled somewhat — or that the public understands the futility of attempting to change or repeal the new law through a legislature still controlled by Democrats.
Many of those who did testify Monday were familiar faces, including a number of county sheriffs, who opposed the magazine ban and were initially named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the ban until the attorney general ruled they had no standing to sue.
The sheriffs argued that the ban on new magazines of more than 15-rounds is unenforceable, given that old magazines can be restocked with bullets and are impossible to distinguish from those manufactured and sold after the ban became law.
“This ban literally turned thousands of law-abiding gun owners into criminals,” said Weld County Sheriff John Cooke, who is also running for a state senate seat this fall.
“Instead of it being ‘unenforceable’, we have law enforcement saying they won’t enforce it,” said Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette. “That’s troubling to me.”
Holbert and Second Amendment activists also argued that the 15-round limit, which started out last year as a proposed ban of magazines of more than 10 rounds, was “arbitrary” and that it punished law-abiding gun owners but wouldn’t be adhered to by criminals.
“As a law-abiding citizen who’s never had any criminal record at all, I’m not allowed to purchase the larger plastic box, only the smaller plastic box, which is all a magazine is,” Holbert said.
Many supporters of the proposed ban criticized Democratic lawmakers for not knowing enough about the guns and magazines they were regulating — “some of you are amateurs,” said the Doug Hamilton, the owner of a shooting range — and urged them to listen to the gun owners who are better informed.
“I would ask this committee to vote yes on this bill and return liberty to the people of Colorado,” said Jeff Bailey, representing the “no compromises” Second Amendment group, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
But Dougherty, one of four Coloradans testifying Monday whose loved ones have been the victims of mass shootings, had little patience for gun owners complaining about their rights being infringed.
“We keep hearing about people having their right to their guns, to their ammunition, to their magazines,” said Dougherty, whose sister was killed in the Netwown, Conn. shooting. “My sister, these people’s family members, had a right to their lives.”
Dougherty and others who support the magazine ban argued that the Constitution doesn’t protect one’s right to own a magazine that’s been used by shooters like Adam Lanza and James Holmes to kill a large number of people in a short amount of time.
“My son, Alex, was 6’2″ and 280 pounds and he didn’t have a chance,” said Tom Sullivan, who described seeing the district attorney’s photos of the Aurora Century 16 theater where his son, Alex, was among 12 people killed when James Holmes opened fire 19 months ago.
“One second he was watching a movie, the next second he was dead. And I’m here so that doesn’t happen to any Colorado father,” Sullivan continued. “That was a theater, not a theater of war, which is where 100-drum magazines are to be used.”