DENVER — A Democrat-dominated Senate committee killed a bill Monday on a 3-2 party-line vote that would have repealed gun control laws requiring background checks for private transfers and sales of firearms.
For nearly seven hours during a hearing before the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs, about 70 individuals testified for and against Senate Bill 94, sponsored by Sen. George Rivera (R-Pueblo) that would have repealed the universal background check laws rushed through the legislature last year.
Reform proponents argued that legislation signed into law last year by Gov. John Hickenlooper infringed on 2nd Amendment rights, created confusion because of the ambiguous language, and were not enforceable.
Since the laws became effective on July 1, background checks were conducted for 6,076 people – and just 104 were rejected.
Opponents contended the universal background check mandate and associated $10 fee were “common sense” measures to close a loophole in the state’s law that had required Colorado Bureau of Investigation checks to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer or at a gun show.
The confusing language in the universal gun check law was evident in testimony by those for and against Rivera’s repeal bill. Some opponents erroneously thought the measure would repeal all background checks.
“I’m very concerned that some think that I don’t want any background checks – that’s not accurate,” said Rivera, who wants a return to the existing laws.
The new laws created “a complicated system of background checks that is onerous to honest citizens,” said Rivera. “And infringe on their constitutional rights.”
Rivera was elected to replace former Sen. Angela Giron, who was recalled in September. Voters also chose Sen. Bernie Herpin (R-Colorado Springs) to replace recalled former Senate President John Morse. On the verge of being recalled, Sen. Evie Hudak (D-Westminster) resigned so that Democrats could appoint a successor to maintain their one-seat majority in the Senate.
The public hearing produced emotional testimony, not only from family members of shooting victims but also from Democrats on the committee who bristled when Victor Head of Pueblo testified for Rivera’s bill. Head spearheaded the effort to recall Giron.
The new universal gun check law is “so broad and so non-concise (and) poorly written” that there are questions about whether you can loan a gun to a family member or friend for more than 72 hours without having to get a background check, Head said. “That’s the problem… it needs to be fixed.”
Democratic Sens. Irene Aguilar of Denver and Matt Jones of Louisville jumped to the conclusion that Head and his volunteers had misinformed voters to get petition signatures to recall Giron.
“I agree with Senator Aguilar… misinformation was spread,” asserted Jones, who said the bill was amended to expand the list of family members who could be loaned a firearm without a background check.
“They’re reasonable,” insisted Jones. “It takes about three minutes to get a background check for a nominal fee.”
Perhaps it’s not that easy. Public testimony revealed difficulty in finding a licensed gun dealer to perform a background check for a person-to-person transfer or sale – the $10 fee doesn’t cover the cost which can run as high as $100.
“After weighing the risks and costs, we decided we cannot support and will participate in background checks for private gun sales,” said Matt Solomon, owner of Alpine Arms in Eagle.
Aguilar suggested that the legislature might want to amend the gun control law to hike the background fees.
Sen. Ted Harvey (R-Highlands Ranch) said the laws enacted last year would not have stopped “horrific, horrific shootings” at Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, the Aurora theater or more recently, Arapahoe High School.
“What it did do is truly cross the line that I think the courts would overthrow with regards to transfers to friends beyond 72 hours,” declared Harvey.
Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, Commerce City Democrat and committee chairman, said that issue could be tested in court.
A lawsuit challenging the law and a measure banning magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds of ammo is already pending in federal court.
“This is not the way you start a productive conversation – starting with a repeal,” said Ulibarri, who voted with Aguilar and Jones against Rivera’s bill. Republicans Harvey and Herpin voted for it.