Colorado Democrats have allegedly been working on gun-control legislation for months, but this week’s unveiling of a proposed eight-bill package on firearms appeared to have been thrown together in about 10 minutes.
For one, there were no bills introduced at Tuesday’s press conference, only descriptions of bills. Senate President John Morse and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino explained that the bills would be dropped soon, some as early as this week.
“You’d think that if they were going to have a big presser, they’d have the bills ready,” observed House Minority Leader Mark Waller.
The lack of actual language gave the announcement a slap-dash feel, as if Democrats were under pressure to make an announcement, any announcement.
And that’s probably true, given that gun control has been at the top of the leadership’s to-do list since before the legislature convened five weeks ago and the party faithful were getting restless.
The other stunner was Morse’s proposed bill on strict liability for manufacturers, distributors, sellers and buyers of semi-automatic weapons. The gun-control lobby undoubtedly saw the idea as ingenious: Ban so-called assault weapons without actually saying that you’re banning assault weapons by making it possible to sue everyone connected with such firearms.
As state Sen. Greg Brophy (R-Wray) put it, the concept is akin to being able to sue Coors for accidents caused by drunk drivers.
There’s just one problem: a federal law, the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, prohibits such lawsuits. As everyone familiar with the concept of federalism was quick to point out, the federal act would preempt any bill passed by the Colorado legislature.
Refusing to admit defeat, Morse seems to think that if enough people get behind his bill, er, proposed bill, a national grassroots groundswell will overwhelm Congress and convince members to overturn the federal act.
Hmm. Probably not going to happen. Even The Denver Post editorial board described Morse’s idea as “fantasy” and “wishful thinking.”
National Rifle Association president David Keene, who met Thursday with Gov. John Hickenlooper, Morse and Ferrandino, called the proposal “a feel-good measure that’s probably not going to do any good, and I think it also runs into problems with federal preemption.”
Last time we checked, Colorado Democrats were flush with campaign cash, outspending their Republican foes by huge margins. Note to Democrats: It may be time to pull some of that funding out of the campaign and invest in a good lawyer, preferably one who’s familiar with the laws already on the books.
Democrats clearly have their hands full with trying to pass gun-control legislation. It’s got to balance the desires of liberal urban Democrats and moderate rural Democrats, as well as the interests of the risk-averse Democratic governor. That’s a lot of balancing. It remains to be seen if the Democratic leadership can pull it off. This week’s gun-control mess wasn’t a good sign.