DENVER – The House Judiciary Committee approved two gun control measures – one to expand background checks, another to ban large capacity ammunition magazines – late Tuesday night after 12 hours of emotionally charged debate. Both bills passed on party-line votes, 7 to 4.
Hundreds of gun rights advocates had crowded into the Old Supreme Court Chambers to testify, but many of their voices were unheard because the committee Chair Rep. Daniel Kagan (D- Greenwood Village) had scheduled both controversial gun-control measures for one hearing.
Because so many people had signed up to testify against House Bill 1229, which broadens the scope of background checks to private sales and restricts lending guns to immediate family members, Kagan limited their testimony to two minutes each – and then closed public comment before all had testified.
Kagan also allowed testimony to track off topic from HB 1229 and HB 1224, limiting high capacity ammunition magazines. For examples, witnesses testified that a proposed background check fee was as discriminating as a poll tax, and anti-depressant drugs prescribed to mentally unstable individuals cause gun violence. Those issues are relevant to other bills in the Democrats’ gun-control package.
Gun violence statistics and public opinion polls were cited by both bill proponents and opponents – but there was great disparity between those conclusions and most references omitted pertinent information such as the source and year of the data.
Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson said the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police support HB 1229 because 40 percent of gun sales are private and don’t require background checks.
But state Rep. Polly Lawrence (R-Littleton) said that HB 1229 would have a greater impact on law abiding citizens and have little effect on criminals.
“It’s not going to be, and pardon my pun, a magic bullet to fix this,” said Jackson of the background checks.
Daniel Carey of the National Rifle Association said the assertion that 40 percent of gun sales go through without gun checks is derived from a study in 1994.
He also corrected a claim by bill proponent John Head, a co-founder of Safe Colorado, that the majority NRA members support background checks.
That, Carey said, is “totally inaccurate.” Of the nearly 5 million dues-paying NRA members, he said 92 percent oppose universal background checks for gun sales.
State Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) bristled and said she didn’t care about NRA – “I’m talking about the people of Colorado!”
“I’m not going to quibble with you,” said Carey.
“We’ll agree to disagree,” retorted Court.
“This is about constitutional rights – not polls,” said state Rep. Carole Murray (R-Castle Rock).
James Winchester, a retired attorney and former vice president of Colorado State Shooting Association, asserted that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has allegedly violated the state’s existing law requiring background checks. The law, he said, requires CBI to complete the checks within three days – not three weeks or months.
Kagan said CBI hasn’t been able to comply because “there’s a huge spike in gun transactions.”
State Rep. Jared Wright (R-Fruita) commented that with the passage of HB 1229, the CBI system will be further overloaded.
NRA instructor Toni Winchester asked for clarification about a provision in the bill that would restrict lending firearms to immediate family.
“It is relative to immediate family only,” declared Brittany Pettersen (D-Lakewood), who said that does not include cousins, uncles or aunts.
Winchester said that she has loaned her weapons to students in gun shooting and safety classes which are conducted on her private property.
But the bill sponsored by state Reps. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora) and Beth McCann (D-Denver) would prohibit Winchester from lending guns to others for practice shooting on private property.
“I believe that background checks do save lives,” said Fields. “It does save lives.”
“We don’t want animals getting guns and killing people,” said Court. And if background checks “stop one, it’s worth it.”
But Gardner said the bill would do little to improve public safety – it will “infringe on citizens’ rights.”
By the time the committee heard testimony on HB 1224, hundreds of people were streaming out of the Old Supreme Court Chambers – many had spent more than eight hours waiting to testify.
Doug Smith, chief operating officer of Magpul Industries, said the bill to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines could impede manufacturing and sales of products – and force the company to move out of Colorado.
“I will only vote for this bill if it does not impact manufacturing,” asserted Kagan, who implied it could later be amended.
Though Fields initially agreed to amend the bill to allow manufacturing, she later backtracked.
However, the bill was amended to allow magazines of 15 rounds rather than 10, and passed on a party line vote, opposed by Republicans.
Instead of logic, “this bill is based mostly on emotion” said Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith, who with the County Sheriffs of Colorado opposes the bill.