On guns, it’s déjà vu all over again for Colorado Legislature in 2014
One safe Colorado prediction for 2014 is that the gun issues that were fought over in 2013 will be a major burden on legislators’ time and an effective public distraction from more critical issues in 2014.
Already Republican legislators are piling on to sponsor or co-sponser bills to repeal the gun control legislation passed last year. Those bills came in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012, which killed 12 people and wounded another 70, and the Sandy Hook school massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012.
According to a USA Today story on the first anniversary of Sandy Hook, after “federal lawmakers failed to act, states debated more than 1,500 gun bills and passed 109 of them. In all of the states which made major changes to their gun laws, one party controls both the statehouse and the governor’s mansion.”
Colorado was one of five states that “now require background checks for all gun purchases in person or online, including at gun shows ... Colorado also banned certain types of high-capacity magazines or ‘assault’ rifles. These plans were all considered in Congress, but failed.”
When the 2013 Colorado Legislature convened last January, new gun control legislation was among the foremost goals of the Democratic legislators who controlled both the House and Senate.
Last January, a Project New America/Chris Keating poll of representative voters from both Colorado’s rural counties and urban/rural areas outside the Front Range found “55 percent of Colorado voters said they favor stricter gun controls, while only 40 percent were opposed.”
The Republican talking point that their conservative votes reflect their rural constituencies was shattered when the poll revealed that opposition and support for reasonable gun regulation in Colorado’s 53 rural counties was almost evenly divided: 48 percent favored more controls, 47 percent disagreed.
However, when the abstract question, “Do you or do you not support greater regulation?” was asked as a series of independent questions about particular gun issues, the poll more accurately reflected the opinion of rural Coloradans about needed gun controls.
El Paso, Larimer, Pueblo and Weld Counties (which I will refer to as the “four counties”) were treated as a unit as they have in common both urban and rural populations. Their results were reported separately, but averaged with those of 53 rural counties for a statewide average.
Ninety-five percent of the voters surveyed agreed that people with serious mental health issues should be restricted from owning a gun.
Eighty-four percent would allow judges to order anyone convicted of, or under a restraining order for, domestic violence to surrender his or her guns to the court.
Requiring all private gun sales to go through a licensed dealer, and be subject to a background check, was agreed to by 80 percent.
The most contentious issue was a ban against the high-capacity magazines that allow some guns to fire more than 10 rounds before reloading. Even that issue garnered 61 percent approval, though it was unevenly split — 60 percent to 48 percent — between the four counties and the rural counties.
Democratic legislators could not have found a much more propitious time to introduce reasonable gun controls in the Legislature. Along party lines, they passed bills to limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, require background checks for all gun sales and to require gun purchasers to pay for the required background check.
Signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper exactly eight months after the Aurora theater shooting, the bills went into effect last July 1.
Up to this point, the evolution of these laws reads like a ninth-grade civics text explaining how democracy works: The majority of legislators, representing a majority of voters, passed laws expressing the will of the public.
But that honored tradition didn’t impress Colorado Republicans and Second Amendment zealots. They have vowed to re-fight the battle and again attempt to impose their minority opinions on the state in the 2014 off-year election, when low turnouts favor conservative voters.
To avoid turning the clock back to a future that looks a lot like 2013, Democrats must win in the November elections. Republicans’ dogmatic insistence on gun rights may be the issue that denies them a chance to achieve their goal.