State Sen. Donovan under fire in Aspen for gun stance
Kerry Donovan’s first official visit to Aspen since she won election to represent State Senate District 5 was a memorable one for her.
Donovan, a Vail Democrat, came under fire at a town hall meeting at the Aspen Square Condominiums for signing on as a co-sponsor on a Senate bill to repeal a law that banned possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines. The controversial 2013 law limits magazines to 15 rounds or less.
During a Q&A session with Donovan and State House Rep. Millie Hamner, Aspen residents Phyllis Bronson, Camilla Auger and Blanca O’Leary all questioned Donovan’s support for the repeal of the magazine limit.
Bronson started the conversation by saying she wants the Democratic Party to be more aggressive on gun-control measures. She asked Donovan point blank why anyone needs so many rounds for a gun and how she could support overturning the 2013 law.
“This is a very controversial, passionate issue,” Donovan said. “Yes, my signing on has caused friction.”
She acknowledged that her position has “pissed off” part of her diverse district — primarily residents in the liberal strongholds of Aspen, Vail and Crested Butte. But nearly all residents in the rest of the district — which includes Delta County, San Luis Valley, Leadville and Buena Vista — supports the repeal of law, she said.
Donovan said the ban on high-capacity magazines is an “unenforceable law.” It is difficult for law enforcement officials to identify the magazines as 15 rounds and larger, she said. Most sheriffs in Colorado have said they won’t enforce the law. There have been nine citations and no convictions since the law went into effect, according to Donovan.
“I just don’t think it’s a well-written law,” she told the Aspen audience of about 40 people.
Donovan also seemed to downplay her support of its repeal by noting the bill will likely face a quick death in the House if it advances, as expected, from the Senate. Democrats hold a slim edge in the state House. Republicans control the state Senate by one vote.
“I don’t believe it makes it out of the House,” Donovan said of the bill.
That didn’t placate the Aspen crowd. Auger, a former Pitkin County Democratic Party chairwoman, asked why Donovan couldn’t at least stay neutral on the bill and not sign on as a co-sponsor. Auger noted that widespread support in Pitkin County is key to a Democrat winning an election in the Senate District 5, which has featured close races.
Donovan said the political reality is her diverse district requires a varied approach. Her stance reflects the majority of residents in her district on the gun-control issue, she said, but she’s also taken progressive stands on issues such as renewable energy. Donovan said if she stands any chance of getting her bills passed, she must work with Republicans.
O’Leary said the multi-round weapons are unnecessary and a key ingredient in mass murders that have occurred in Colorado.
“We are the capital of massacres in this state,” she said.
Many people don’t understand that the magazine-size limit doesn’t affect the ability to hunt big game, O’Leary contended. She suggested in a not-so-subtle way that “with leadership and education,” Donovan could show residents in other parts of her district that the magazine cap wasn’t an anti-hunting or gun-ownership issue.
“It’s really dangerous for people to be willy-nilly on the magazines,” O’Leary said.
Donovan didn’t back down. She said that “from the start” she would work to repeal the law, apparently referring to her campaign last year.
Donovan told the Colorado Independent website in August during the campaign that she wouldn’t have supported the limit on magazine size. She said she viewed the debate as a Second Amendment issue.
While gun control dominated the meeting, several other topics were touched on. Hamner, D-Dillon, said Colorado’s TABOR law will hurt the legislature’s efforts to fund education and road construction this year. TABOR limits tax revenue growth and requires refunds when limits are hit.
“We are about to hit the TABOR cap,” Hamner said.
Meanwhile, primary schools and higher education are woefully underfunded and the state needs more money to adequately repair roads, she said
If the average taxpayer receives a small refund check from the state, they will be unaware of the funding challenges, Hamner said.
“It’s sort of frustrating,” she said. “I’m afraid Coloradans are going to say we’re doing so well they’re giving us money back.”
Hamner represents House District 61, which includes Pitkin, Summit and Lake counties as well as part of Delta and Gunnison counties. She is vice chair of the powerful budget committee and in line to be the chair next session.
Hamner said she would work with the legislature to “sort this out.”
One of the oddities of Colorado’s tax revenue cap is it could require the state to refund revenues from marijuana retail sales, which became legal this year. State officials haven’t figured out yet how to make the refunds
Former Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, sitting in the audience, proposed a solution to the refund dilemma.
“We’re all going to have to start smoking dope to get a refund,” Ireland quipped.
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