Gun bills advance along party lines
DENVER — It was a marathon day in the Colorado Senate on Monday as two committees heard hours of testimony on seven gun-control bills, ranging from background checks on all gun sales to taking guns away from domestic-violence offenders.
All of the measures were introduced by Democratic lawmakers in reaction to recent mass shootings in Aurora, Connecticut and elsewhere in the nation. Each passed the two Democratic-controlled committees on party-line votes.
While opponents to the seven bills said each infringed on people’s Second Amendment right to bear arms, supporters said no right comes without some responsibility.
“The breadth and complexity of gun violence is great, but that is not an excuse for inaction,” said former U.S. Astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in Tucson, Ariz., in 2011. “We believe wholly and completely in the Second Amendment, and that it confers upon all Americans the right to own a firearm for protection, collection and recreation. We take that right very seriously, and we would never, ever give it up. But rights demands responsibility, and this right does not extend to criminals and it does not extend to the mentally ill.”
Proponents of several of the measures cited a 2008 ruling written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the more conservative members of the high court. In the case that upheld people’s right to own handguns, District of Columbia v. Heller, Scalia wrote that “like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
Several opponents, however, said many of the bills go too far.
Montrose resident Elizabeth Martin said she drove to Denver to tell lawmakers that any law limiting gun ownership in any way would lead to a total ban on gun ownership.
“Any gateway of laws that prohibit my ability to own a gun is something that I take very seriously, and I will do everything and anything I can to stop it,” Martin told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “Any infringement on our rights to own weapons I’m against, because it starts small and gets bigger and spreads wider.”
Dudley Brown, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Association, said requiring universal background checks on all gun sales, for example, is akin to requiring people to ask permission of the government before they are allowed to publish anything.
Dave Kopel, conservative author and research director for the free-market Independence Institute, said there’s no evidence showing that laws limiting rounds in gun magazines have helped prevent deaths during crimes.
Executives and workers of Erie-based MagPul Industries, which makes gun accessories, said they would leave Colorado if one of the bills passes in any form.
And Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, questioned several witnesses about the wisdom of approving gun-related bills rather than improving mental health programs designed to catch people before they become a danger to the public.
“Should it not be the best practices, the best protocols, the best way of dealing with mentally ill people?” King asked of one witness. “Just like with drunk drivers, the mental health of people having access to weapons is the number-one key issue, and the number-one issue the state should be addressing.”
That witness, Dr. Mark Thrun, president of the Denver Public Health Association, agreed, but added that doesn’t mean the state shouldn’t look at other ways to prevent gun violence.
“No, senator, I don’t disagree with you at all,” Thrun responded. “I agree that mental health should be absolutely prioritized, but so too should a myriad of other things.”
All seven bills are expected to be debated by the full Senate on Friday.