DENVER– Democrat legislators aim to fire four gun-control bills through the House on Friday. But the debate over the Second Amendment right to bear arms may put the First Amendment right of free speech to the test.
House Speaker Mark Ferrandino assured Republicans that ample time will be allotted to debate the bills on the floor. His remarks followed a speech by state Rep. Bob Gardner (R-Colorado Springs) asking legislators to respect debate.
“I ask you to consider that this is the debate of the people of Colorado and of our constituents,”Gardner said Thursday on the House floor.
Gardner and fellow Republicans complained of gun-control bills being pushed through Democrat-controlled committees this week – cutting off the testimony of witnesses and questions posed by legislators who opposed the bills.
Friday’s debate will be over passage of House Bill 1224 to ban large ammunition magazines, House Bill 1228 to assess a background check tax, House Bill 1229 to expand background checks for gun transactions and House Bill 1226 to prohibit concealed carry weapons on college campuses.
Whether it is a two-hour discussion of three bills in the House Appropriations Committee or a 12-hour debate over two bills before the House Judiciary Committee, Gardner said that constituents and their legislators deserve to be heard and respected.
“To curtail that debate because one needs to be on the floor to move a bill forward that is serious, and one that constituents take as infringement upon their fundamental rights, is nothing less than to diminish the process,” he said. “And to silence even those of us who refuse to be silenced.”
Boisterous applause and cheers erupted and muffled the sound of House Speaker Ferrandino banging his gavel and calling for order.
Gardner had been cut off repeatedly for offering more comments than questions Thursday in the House Appropriations Committee alternately chaired by state Reps. Claire Levy (D-Boulder) and Crisanta Duran (D-Denver).
State Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver) said Gardner’s remarks were ironic considering that the Republicans, who held a one-seat majority in the House last year, had kept the civil unions bill from coming to the floor.
“The House last year did not even allow debate on a civil unions bill, silencing the majority,” Pabon told The Denver Post. “And now (they) are complaining about a minority voice not being heard.”
Actually, Duran and Levy each toldGardnerto save his comments and questions for the House floor – but he insisted the committee was the appropriate place.
“I think we have to respect the process that we have in place and we will have plenty of opportunity to talk about this bill on the floor,” said Duran.
HB 1228 would implement a minimum $10 fee for background checks performed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI), but Gardnerasked why there isn’t a cap on the fee. And he noted the bill does not address how often it could be raised.
The minimum fee would generate an estimated $4 million in revenue to CBI, which would also receive nearly $1.4 million from the state General Fund annually for at least two years.
Labuda said not one person complained about paying the background check fee during the bill’s hearing Wednesday in the House Finance Committee.
“I didn’t hear one single gun owner come up and say, ‘I’m happy to pay this fee,’” countered state Rep. Brian DelGrosso (R-Loveland). When told that the fee would be a financial hardship for some individuals, he said, the bill’s sponsor state Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver) replied, “If you can afford the gun, you can afford the fee.”
“We’re building an unconstitutional fee for a cash fund – with no assurance of service,” said state Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling) after hearing that the CBI hopes to achieve same-day background checks, but the bill does not specify a turnaround time.
“We are out of time on this bill,” Levy told the committee. “It is my intent to proceed.”
“We’ve been talking about this for almost two hours, (and) questions have been answered,” said Duran. The bill “ends a subsidy.”
Levy allowed a few more questions, but Gardner again stepped into the crosshairs, rambling on and on in a preamble to a question about permits for partially assembled guns.
“Ask the question or I will gavel you out of order!” declared Levy.