Senator touts gun liability measure

DENVER — The political guns will be blazing over a measure to be introduced today not to ban military-style assault weapons, but to place strict liability over those who own, sell and manufacture them.

Senate President John Morse, who is introducing the bill, said he’s taking this route rather than an outright ban on assault rifles because there already are more than 5 1/2 million such weapons on the streets already.

A ban on new ones would do nothing to keep those weapons from being used in future shootings, such as the ones last year at an Aurora movie theater and Connecticut elementary school, the Colorado Springs Democrat said.

“These guns are four times more powerful than handguns, so that means they’re more effective at killing, they’re more efficient at killing and they do a lot more collateral damage,” Morse said. “The net effect is, there are people that believe that they have the right to own these guns, but we need to be better at making sure that we’ve articulated clearly the responsibility that goes along with these guns.”

Republicans criticized the idea when it was first proposed about a month ago as nothing more than a back-door attempt at banning firearms, while some Democrats have complained the idea may not be workable legally.

“Senator Morse is proposing a full employment act for trial lawyers in an attempt to sue firearms dealers and manufacturers out of existence,” said Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs. “This law will also jeopardize law abiding firearms owners as they can be sued into bankruptcy if they have ever owned a firearm that later causes harm or damage under the possession of someone else.”

Morse, however, says he’s confident the bill will have enough supporters to pass through the Legislature.

While there are protections in the measure from such weapons falling into the wrong hands at no fault of the owners, the bill places a strict liability on those who choose to own them.

Strict liability is a term used in court to determine the amount of responsibility a person has in negligence cases.

Under the measure, if such a weapon is used during the commission of a lethal crime, that gun owner would have to show it ended up in the hands of the criminal at no fault of their own, or that they had no reasonable suspicion it would be used to kill.

The bill also would apply to retail gun sellers and gun manufacturers.

“You will have had to not exercise the absolute responsibility that comes with this right to own this weapon,” Morse said. “Once you’ve exposed yourself to that, yes, you’re going to have to answer in court. You’ll need to tell us why you shouldn’t be responsible ... because you put these very dangerous implements on our streets.”

Morse said the bill is expected to be introduced today and heard in committee on Monday along with four other gun-control measures that have already cleared the House.

Those bills would require a universal background check on all gun purchases, a provision to have gun buyers pay for those checks, a 15-round limit on gun magazines and a measure to bar concealed carry weapons on college campuses.

Morse said the goal is to have all those measures through the Senate by mid-March.


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