DENVER–Gov. John Hickenlooper said in an interview Monday that he isn’t worried that signing a slew of Democratic gun-control bills will hurt his reelection chances, despite overwhelming opposition from gun-rights advocates at Monday’s hearings.
More than 1,000 protestors swarmed the state capitol Monday in an unsuccessful effort to stop seven Democrat-sponsored gun-control measures.
The honking of horns from passing cars could be heard throughout the marathon committee meetings, while a prop plane flew overhead with a banner that read, “HICK: DO NOT TAKE OUR GUNS.”
“There’s a plane flying around that’s saying, ‘Hick, don’t take our guns.’ Well, here’s the answer: we’re not taking any guns,” said Hickenlooper in an interview with KUSA-TV.
Gun-rights advocates have vowed to target for defeat vulnerable lawmakers who support the package. Groups like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners are already singling out Democrats, packing their town-hall meetings, putting their names in newspaper ads and flooding their offices with emails.
Still, the Democratic governor said most people support gun-control measures as long as they don’t involve firearm registration or confiscation.
“I have talked to many, literally like over a hundred people,” said Hickenlooper. “Almost everyone says, ‘Yeah, as long as there’s no centralized database. As long as you’re not taking weapons away from us, but you’re just making sure that when we sell a weapon it doesn’t go to someone with a violent criminal history or severe mental illness, yeah that makes sense.’”
His remarks came during what was billed as Monday’s “great Colorado gunfight.” Seven Democrat-backed gun-control bills won approval Monday in two Senate committees, each passing by a 3-2 margin on party-line votes, after hours of heated and emotional testimony.
State Sen. Irene Aguilar (D-Denver) chided gun-rights advocates for their “unprofessional behavior” in the packed Senate Judiciary Committee hearing after one witness said he would donate to the campaign of a Democratic senator’s opponent. There were cheers after some speakers testified against the measures, while somebody yelled after a bill passed, “That sucks!”
“I continue to be amazed by the hostility that we are hearing from people who are opposed to this bill,” said Aguilar.
The seven bills are expected to arrive Friday on the Senate floor for debate. Four of the seven have already cleared the House and could land on the governor’s desk in a matter of weeks.
Both sides of the debate brought out high-profile speakers. Speaking out against the bills was a contingent of 20 Colorado sheriffs, while the package’s supporters included survivors of the mass shootings at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the Safeway in Tucson, Ariz., and Columbine High School in Littleton.
Former astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was injured in the Tucson shooting, testified in favor of the bill requiring universal background checks.
“Dangerous people with weapons specifically designed to kill quickly and efficiently have turned every single corner of our society into places of carnage and gross human loss,” said Kelly. “Gabbie and I are pro-gun ownership. We are anti-gun violence.”
Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor called the bill to restrict magazine capacity “unenforceable.” He predicted the bill would result a proliferation of ammunition stands along the Colorado-Wyoming border alongside the fireworks stands.
“The fact is, you can drive to Wyoming and buy all the 30-round magazines you want,” said Taylor, speaking for the County Sheriffs of Colorado. “In our opinion, it doesn’t enhance public safety.”
Both the bills requiring universal background checks and limit magazine capacity won committee approval, as did bills to require gun owners to pay for their background checks, ban concealed-carry on campus, and require domestic-violence offenders to turn in their guns.
Also winning passage was SB 196, sponsored by Senate President John Morse, which would create civil liability for firearms manufacturers, sellers and owners. Critics pointed out during the hearing that the bill conflicts with a 2005 federal law–the Independence Institute’s David Kopel said the bill was sloppily drafted–but Morse argued that the federal statute requires manufacturers to follow state law.
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) read a line from the bill saying that a gun seller would be legally liable for a crime committed with a semi-automatic weapon if the seller knows that “assault weapons are sought after by and are useful for criminals, mass killers, and those with criminal intent but are rarely necessary for lawful purposes.”
“I think you’re missing one salient fact, which is those semi-automatic rifles are used for the defense of property, for the defense of family, for the defense of individuals,” said Lundberg. “They do serve a purpose, to deter crime, to deter destruction of people and property. That’s what they’re extremely likely to do.”
State Rep. Steve King (R-Grand Junction) cited a study showing that three people were killed with semi-automatic rifles in Colorado in 2011, while 22 were killed with knives or other “edged weapons.” Another 21 were killed with hammers, bats and pipes.
“Are we looking next year to seeing as liable weapon makers, knife makers?” asked King.
Morse argued that knives also do “good things,” like “cut steaks.”
“These are efficient killing machines that permit people to kill a lot of people very quickly,” said Morse. “Certainly a knife can cause damage and death, but people also have a better chance of surviving a knife attack.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee also approved HB 1224, the bill to limit magazine capacity to 15 rounds or eight shotgun shells. The committee amended the bill to create exemptions for manufacturers and to allow pump shotguns that can be readily converted to hold more than eight shells.
Officials with several Colorado companies, including Magpul Industries, have said they will leave the state if the magazine-limit bill becomes law, even with the exemption. To bring home the message, Magpul parked a truck in front of the capitol emblazoned with the company’s logo.