DENVER–Colorado Democrats continued to advance their package of gun reforms Wednesday, approving two more bills on party-line votes, while a Republican bill to block new federal firearms laws was removed from a committee agenda without explanation.
The House Education Committee voted 7-6 in favor of a bill to ban concealed carry on college campuses, while the House Finance Committee passed 7-6 a bill that would require gun buyers to pay a fee associated with the cost of mandatory background checks.
Meanwhile, a Republican bill designed to prevent new federal gun measures from taking effect, including the 23 executive orders signed last month by President Obama, was removed Wednesday morning without explanation from the hearing list of the Senate State, Veterans & Military Affairs Committee.
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins) said she didn’t know why the hearing was delayed.
“There was no explanation given whatsoever and no reset date,” said Marble. “I did ask, and I was told they’re just not going to hear it today. They’re kind of tight-lipped about it.”
She said she had to scramble to contact her witnesses before they made the trip to the state capitol for the afternoon hearing. A message on Twitter from the committee said the hearing “will be rescheduled for a later date.”
A similar measure was approved two weeks ago by the Wyoming House, while legislatures in another half-dozen states are considering enacting their own blocks on any federal gun laws or rules passed in 2013.
The issue of gun control has dominated the legislative stage this week, drawing big crowds at committee hearings and hours of testimony. Both of Wednesday’s gun-related committee hearings were packed with gun-rights advocates who urged “no” votes on both bills.
At the hearing on whether to allow concealed-carry guns on campus, state Rep. Claire Levy (D-Gilpin) riled the crowd when she referred to college students as “kids.”
“There are things we know about college students and things we know about guns, and we know that the two do not mix,” said Levy, who introduced the bill. “Do we really want to give guns to binge-drinking college kids?”
Critics pointed out that applicants for a concealed-carry permit must be 21, and that there are 18-year-olds serving overseas in the military who carry firearms.
“Since the Colorado Concealed Carry Act applies to citizens 21 and over, who are these kids?” asked state Rep. Chris Holbert (R-Parker).
Three students from the University of Colorado Boulder and several professors testified in favor of changing the current law to prohibit concealed-carry on campus. The Colorado Supreme Court ruled in March 2012 that the state’s concealed-carry law applies to public universities.
Tyler Quick, a member of CU Boulder’s student government, said some professors have reacted by putting signs on their doors with messages like, “Please do not enter if you have a concealed weapon.”
“CU students are concerned and distracted by the presence of concealed weapons on campus,” said Quick, son of Boulder District Attorney Don Quick.
Opponents of the bill noted that there have been no incidents involving problems with concealed-carry on campus since the court decision, leading state Rep. Justin Everett (R-Littleton) to ask, “Is this a solution in search of a problem?”
Levy said her decision to introduce the bill was unrelated to problems with concealed-carry on campus. The only episode recounted at the hearing was an accidental discharge by an employee at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus in November, resulting in a minor injury to another staffer.
“In fact, I don’t think we’ve had very many problems,” said Levy. “I was motivated to carry this bill after Supreme Court ruling. It is a simple statement that guns and college students don’t mix. It’s not a reaction to a problem.”
The bill to charge a fee for background checks passed despite concerns that the amount, estimated at $10 or $12, could increase to the point of discouraging people from buying guns. Lawmakers said they would consider adding a cap to the fee.
Democrats likened the fee to that paid by teachers for background checks. But Republicans said it violated the Constitution by attaching a state-levied charge to the exercise of a constitutional right, and that it also ran afoul of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights.
“A fee paid before exercising a constitutional right cannot be considered anything but a poll tax,” said state Rep. Lori Saine (R-Dacono). “I understand we had a conversation earlier about how it’s not that big of a poll tax, it’s a small poll tax; however, it is still poll tax, and as such, it is a violation of TABOR.”
The sponsor, state Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) said having gun buyers pay for their own background checks was part of living in a civil society, but that the buyer also gained the benefit of being found to be a law-abiding citizen.
“I think that paying a fee to prove that you’re not a criminal is a service to yourself,” said Court. “We wouldn’t want you to have a gun, and I’m sure you would like to be proven as not being a criminal when you purchase your gun. So this is a service to you.”
That’s not how State Rep. James Wilson (R-Salida) saw it. “I’m kind of excited to be innocent until proven guilty, but that’s just me,” said Wilson.