DENVER–Another round of gun bills is moving toward Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk, but with little of the public outcry that accompanied the first wave in March.
That doesn’t mean gun-rights advocates are happy with the legislation. It’s more like they’ve resigned themselves to the inevitable in the face of a staunchly liberal legislature, at least for the moment, said Joe Neville, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners political director.
“You might not see the dog-and-pony show like we had before, but people are still out there,” said Neville. “We’re still hearing from them. They’re just more involved now at the local level.”
The legislature has already passed two bills: Senate Bill 195, which would ban concealed-carry applicants from receiving their permits via online courses; and Senate Bill 197, which would require domestic-violence offenders to surrender their firearms in the aftermath of a conviction or protective order.
The domestic-violence measure won final House and Senate approval earlier this week after Democrats said that the bill was needed to protect victims from gun-wielding abusers.
“The objective is to get the guns out of the home,” said state Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora). “When you combine domestic violence and guns, that is a lethal combo. Those two things do not mix.”
The victory came over the objections of Republicans, who argue the bill is ripe for abuse by requiring court-ordered gun confiscation. Federal law prohibits offenders from possessing firearms, but provides no mechanism for the courts to remove their guns.
“That’s really what this bill is about: It’s gun confiscation. That’s the difference between this and what we have in current law,” said state Rep. Lori Saine (R-Dacono) during Friday’s floor debate.
A third proposal, House Bill 1306, would establish a task force to advise the legislature on preventing the potentially violent mentally ill from obtaining firearms. The House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee approved the measure Tuesday on a 6-5 party-line vote.
The measure has split mental-health advocates, who say they support increasing public safety but worry that the task force could wind up discouraging the mentally ill from seeking treatment.
“This moving forward, even as a task force, would go back to the stigma that mental-health consumers are a danger to society,” said Ty Smith, director of Youth Voice of Colorado in testimony before the committee. “We’re more likely to be a victim of a crime than a perpetrator.”
State Sen. Beth McCann (D-Denver), who sponsored the bill, said that the task force would include a wide variety of representatives, including mental-health advocates.
“The goal is to bring them together to have a robust discussion on whether there should be something done at the state level,” said McCann. “I have no hidden agenda.”
Given the state legislature’s crackdown this year on firearms, however, gun-rights advocates say they see the task force as a means of providing cover for more anti-gun legislation. About 60 million Americans seek treatment every year for mental-health issues, according to the National Institute for Mental Health.
“Legislation dealing with this topic has only one purpose: to strip hundreds of thousands of Colorado gun owners of their gun rights without due process by giving bureaucrats the power to dictate who is mentally stable enough to own a gun,” said Neville. “Any task force set up by a legislative body who has already approved multiple anti-gun measures will be stacked with their allies.”
Endorsing the measure were several law-enforcement groups, including the County Sheriffs of Colorado, which strongly opposed the last round of gun-control bills. State Rep. Amy Stephens (R-Monument) asked whether the sheriffs’ organization was concerned about being excluded from the process.
“Is your support of this bill based on needing to be a part of the discussion and your concern for how this committee could come out?” asked Stephens.
Peg Ackerman, lobbyist for the County Sheriffs of Colorado, agreed that “we definitely need to be part of this conversation,” adding that, “We won’t make any judgments about how this might come out.”
The bill is scheduled to be heard Friday before the House Legislative Council.
Four Democratic legislators are facing recall efforts, now in the petition-signing phase, largely in response to their votes in favor of this year’s gun-control bills. The campaigns have until June to gather enough valid signatures to place the legislators on the recall ballot.