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All Seven Democratic Gun Bills Pass Committees On Party Line Votes

Bente Birkeland

The gun debate was front and center at the Colorado capitol Monday as proposals already approved in the house made their way to senate committees.

It was a marathon day of testimony that also included debate on three new Democratic backed bills.

Hundreds of Second Amendment advocates jammed the capitol’s halls and filled all overflow rooms trying to listen in to Monday’s hearings. Even before the testimony began, a plane flew above the building with a banner saying, “Hick, don’t take our guns.”

Honking cars circled the capitol all day protesting the debate going on inside.

Jim Heath drove up from Colorado Springs. He says he didn’t expect to actually make it inside a packed hearing room, but that it was important for him to make his presence and opposition known to lawmakers.

“All are taking away some right we already have,” Heath said. “We’re in a country that should be governed by the constitution. So who are the representatives to take away any of these God given rights?”

Four of the seven bills had already cleared the Democratic controlled house. One of those measures requires universal background checks on all gun purchases and another is a bill limiting high capacity magazines to 15 rounds.

“It just seems to me that the knee jerk reaction was to go right for gun rights rather than consider the mental health issues,” said John Flynn a project engineer for the state department. He stood in the hallway outside a committee hearing room.

Flynn opposes all the measures because he says they punish law-abiding citizens. He also believes the White House is trying to use Colorado as a test case on just how far Democrats can push gun control legislation.

“I think with our collective intelligence we can come up with more constructive ways to prevent issues like, Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Newtown. Gun control has been tried in the past and it hasn’t worked, statistics show it.

Advocates for the bills argue the measures would help prevent gun violence. Jane Dougherty lives in Colorado and testified in support of a high capacity magazine ban. She lost her sister in December’s Sandy Hook shooting. Dougherty says no one, including shooters like Adam Lanza should ever have access to such a deadly weapon.

“The large capacity magazine he held was the same kind of weapon we use in war. He had a platoon. And he had enough fire-power to slaughter those babies. We need to reduce the number of rounds in these ammunitions. It will save lives,” she said.

Democratic senate president John Morse of Colorado Springs is sponsoring a bill that could hold sellers and manufacturers of assault weapons civilly liable in shootings. It was one of the more disputed measures that got its first hearing Monday.

“When you’re acquiring an assault weapon you’re doing it for your own want and putting the rest of us at risk. That’s why you need to be held accountable. These weapons don’t serve a useful public purpose.

Morse acknowledges that the safest way for a seller to avoid liability is to simply not sell assault weapons. He says it’s not a constitutional right. Opponents argue it is a right. They contend his bill is simply a backdoor assault weapons ban.

“Those semi-automatic rifles when they’re used in defense of property, and family and individuals do serve a purpose,” said Senator Kevin Lundberg, R Berthoud. “And the purpose is to deter crime. That’s what they’re extremely likely to do.”

Lawmakers also heard a bill that would ban online training for concealed weapons permits and a measure requiring domestic violence offenders to surrender their guns. All the proposals passed on party line votes. Perhaps a Republican lawmaker summed up the long day of hearings best when he said these awful tragedies should be prevented, but there’s a real deep disagreement as to how we get there.

The Senate is scheduled to debate all the measures Friday.

The Seven Gun Bills That Passed Committees:

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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