Colorado Senate give final OK to gun control bills

Kristen Wyatt
The Associated Press
Aspen, CO Colorado

DENVER – A gun control package pushed by Colorado Democrats cleared the state Senate on Monday, as sponsors described it as a needed response to Colorado’s blood-soaked history of mass shootings.

One Democrat after another rose Monday to talk about restricting gun rights after last July’s shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater. The vote came on the eve of an expected plea by the alleged gunman, James Holmes, who is accused of killing 12 people and injuring dozens more.

The measures approved by the Senate included a limit on the kinds of high-capacity ammunition magazines Holmes is accused of using in the theater shooting. Other measures included expanded background checks on private gun sales and a new ban on gun ownership for people facing domestic violence charges.

Republicans argued in vain that the gun controls would not have prevented the theater shooting, nor the school massacre last December in Newtown, Conn. Some cited the 1999 Columbine High School shootings outside Denver.

Democrats stood firm.

“We can’t get back the kids we lost, but can refuse to send them more,” argued Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver.

The Democratic gun control package in Colorado is being watched nationally to see how a politically moderate state with a gun-loving past responds to the recent shootings in suburban Denver and in Connecticut.

Only one of the five bills heads to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper to be signed into law. The remaining four must return to the House for more debate, including the ammunition magazine limit and the domestic violence bill. The House is under Democratic control and will likely approve the measures.

Hickenlooper has said he supports the one bill awaiting his signature, a revived fee for people seeking background checks by gun purchasers. Hickenlooper has also called for expanded background checks and has said he’d sign the magazine limit if lawmakers get it to him.

Republicans tried in vain to stop parts of the gun control package. They argued longest against the magazine ammunition limit.

“It’s not going to work, and I hate to say that,” concluded Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker. “What it will do is infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

However, Republicans only succeeded in picking off two of the three Democratic defectors they needed to defeat the ammunition limit. They warned that the gun controls are feel-good measures that won’t make Colorado safer.

“Which of these bills we’ve voted on today would have prevented these tragedies?” asked Sen. Owen Hill, R-Parker.

Democrats insisted that lawmakers have no excuse after those mass shootings not to tighten gun restrictions.

“If we fail to do a common-sense measure … then shame on us,” said Senate Democratic Leader Morgan Carroll, whose district includes the Aurora movie theater.

Democratic Senate President John Morse said Monday he was proud that his caucus was promoting measures to reduce gun violence.

“We will make a difference and increase gun safety in Colorado and decrease gun violence,” Morse said.

The remaining gun bill headed to the House requires increased training for a concealed-weapons permit. That measure has had support from both parties and is thought likely to clear the House.