Gun-law fight begins at Capitol

DENVER — Democrats revealed their long-awaited plan to address gun violence Tuesday, and Republicans and gun-rights advocates were decidedly unhappy about their ideas.

Not only do their measures call for universal background checks on the sale of all weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines, but it also included a unique idea to place ultimate liability on anyone who owns an assault-style weapon if anything bad happens with them.

Senate President John Morse, who hopes to introduce that last measure soon, says it’s not a ban on assault weapons and would not lead to registrations of gun owners.

Morse said the intent is that people who want to own such weapons will go far beyond normal in taking precautions in how and where they store such weapons.

The Colorado Springs Democrat said the issue is akin to how states regulate dynamite. By law, there are strict laws governing who has access to it, and heavy liability issues for those who let it fall into the wrong hands, he said.

“So making these military-style assault weapons available for retail sales involves huge risks to the public. Make sure you’ve accounted for 100 percent of that risk,” he said. “These guns are poison on our streets. They have no place on our streets or in our forests. If you think you have a Second Amendment right to have that gun, all I’m saying is with rights come responsibility.”

Republicans, however, said the idea amounts to a ban on the weapons regardless of how Morse characterizes it.

Sellers’ fear

Under his idea, if an assault weapon is used in the commission of a crime, whoever was its last owner could be held financially liable for all damages caused during commission of that crime, including mass murders such as last year’s shootings at an Aurora theater and a school in Connecticut.

That liability would apply even if an assault rifle were stolen. As a result, it will become a de-facto ban on the weapons because no one will want to take that risk, said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

“If you’re afraid to sell these weapons because you might be held liable for something that happens 10, 15 years from now, you’re just not going to sell them,” Brophy said. “This is the equivalent of holding Coors, the distributor and the 7-11 from which the 12-pack was stolen responsible for the drunk-driving accident. I can’t believe how extreme that is.”

The Democrats had the Republicans’ collective backs up even before the bills were unveiled.

Knowing that Democrats had scheduled a morning press conference to discuss their measures, the Republicans attempted to filibuster the Colorado House.

That attempt drew laughs and anger. Some said they thought it was inane that the GOP was trying to filibuster a press event, while others said they were angry at the vehicle Republicans were using to delay floor action.

The House was discussing a resolution honoring the 150-year anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, repeatedly shouted that his ancestors were freed because of the proclamation, prompting former House Speaker Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, to tell him angrily to calm down.

The GOP ended up delaying the press conference by less than 10 minutes.

Magazine limits

Republicans also are worried that the assault-rifle measure and another bill in the package ultimately will lead to registration of gun owners.

That measure is universal background checks on all gun sales, including private ones.

Opponents say there’s no way either measure could be successful without tracking who owns all weapons.

“It absolutely is registration because it expands the Brady Act,” said Dudley Brown, executive director of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Association, who promised to mount a grassroots effort to fight the bills. “The (background check) data goes through the CBI and then the FBI. If you don’t think that data is kept, I have some swamp land I want to sell you.”

Other measures in the package include a requirement to have in-person firearm training before qualifying for a concealed-carry license, requiring all gun buyers to pay for the background checks, limiting magazines to 10 rounds, banning those convicted of domestic violence crimes from owning firearms, and a requirement that mental health professionals notify the Colorado Bureau of Investigation of patients who pose serious threats to others for the purpose of preventing them from obtaining a weapon.

Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, said he doesn’t care for any of the measures, and questions why more of them don’t focus on the mental health aspect of gun violence.

“Is this all just about emotion? Hell yes, it’s all emotional right now,” King said of the measures. “There are a lot of people really scared. They’re scared for their kids, they’re scared for their Second Amendment rights. The knee-jerk reaction is, ‘We need to fix this right this minute.’ I’m not sure the guns are the issue. It’s the mental health of the person who walks into those situations, so what can we be pro-active about to prevent that?”


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The central question raised by Charles Ashby’s report on newly proposed gun legislation (“Gun-law fight begins at Capitol, February 6, 2013) is this:  are assault weapons more like explosives, or like cans of Coors?

Because firearms are “inherently dangerous products” subject to “strict liability” (unless exempted by law) for misuse, Democratic Senate President John Morse sensibly insists that “assault weapons” should be regulated more like dynamite – as under C.R.S. § 18-12-109 of the Colorado Criminal Code and/or under C.R.S. § 9-7-106, requiring the permitting, regulation, and inspection of explosives.

According to Republican Senator Greg Brophy, no one would sell assault weapons (or even register them, like cars) if they were subject to perpetual strict liability – just as Coors would not distribute beer if it were perpetually liable for drunk-driving accidents.

Common sense rejects any equivalence between a ten-plus round magazine and a 12-pack of suds.  Moreover, exposing gun manufacturers, sellers, and owners to strict liability for their guns’ misuse would also “create jobs” – in the firearm liability insurance industry. 

Thus, contrary to Steve King’s refrain, “Hell no”, the gun debate is not “all just about emotion” – it’s about the money.  Therefore, since King would focus attention away from gun regulation onto “the mental health of the person who walks into those situations”, the answer to his question – “what can we be pro-active about to prevent that?” – is to reverse years of bipartisan budget-cutting and devote more public and private resources to the monitoring and care of the mentally ill.

To generate needed revenues, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s entire costs of conducting gun-transaction background checks should be borne by sellers – contrary to
C.R.S. § 12-12.1-103 – and purchasers of assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and ammunition should pay a tax surcharge sufficient to fund the revitalization of mental health programs.

                Bill Hugenberg

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