Colorado is poised to follow New York as the second state to pass sweeping gun-control restrictions following mass shootings last year in a suburban Aurora theater and an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.
The Colorado Senate today will take a final vote on a measure that mirrors a policy goal of President Barack Obama: requiring background checks for private gun sales. It will also consider instituting a fee for such reviews. Senators may limit high-capacity ammunition magazines; force domestic-violence offenders to surrender firearms; and require in-person training for concealed-carry permit applicants.
“There are 310 million guns in America and 314 million people in America and America still has one of the highest homicide rates in any of the developed countries,” Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, who sponsored the background check bill, said on the floor in Denver on March 8.
The intense debate over gun control in Colorado, where many grew up hunting, is playing out in statehouses nationwide. Congress is wrangling over similar measures and Maryland will consider restrictions this month. Last week, South Dakota became the first state since the Newtown massacre to allow teachers to carry guns in the classroom.
If Colorado’s bills pass, all will move to the House of Representatives except the fee measure, which will go to Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, 61. The House already approved the universal background check measure and high- capacity magazine limits, but must ratify Senate amendments. The governor has said he supports the legislation.
“Closing the private-sale loophole is a meaningful way to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous killers,” said Carroll, whose district includes the Aurora cinema where James Holmes is accused of killing 12 and wounding 58 last year.
It would be the first time lawmakers in the state approved legislation significantly tightening firearm restrictions since 15 died, including the attackers, in a 1999 massacre at Columbine High School near Denver. The votes come almost three months after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where 20 children and six adults were gunned down.
If the Colorado Legislature’s Democratic majority passes the bills over the objections of Republicans who argue it will deter businesses and hunters from spending money, the action may impel similar measures in Congress and elsewhere.
“Colorado is much more of a leadership state on an issue like guns than an Eastern state or a Southern state,” said Robert McCrie, a professor of security management at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “Colorado is a Western state with Western traditions, particularly enshrining the respect for hunting and the ownership of rifles.”
With opposition in Congress stalling Obama’s bid for tighter laws, Democrats in statehouses are pushing firearm restrictions. State legislatures are considering more than 600 gun-control bills and about 540 measures broadening gun rights, according to a March 5 analysis by the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“This is a huge increase -- a 63 percent increase in the number of bills that would strengthen gun laws over the same time last year,” said Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney. “And a 14 percent increase in bills that would weaken gun laws.”
Facing opposition from gun owners, manufacturers and National Rifle Association lobbyists, the laws have been slow to advance outside New York, which in January became the first to respond to the Newtown massacre by tightening its assault- weapons ban and outlawing magazines with more than 10 rounds.
In Maryland, where Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley’s party controls the legislature, lawmakers may give final passage to some of the nation’s strictest laws. The issue has drawn hundreds to demonstrations in Annapolis and opposition from Accokeek, Maryland-based Beretta USA Corp.
The state Senate approved legislation Feb. 28 that would ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, and impose new licensing rules for handguns, including training and fingerprinting requirements for permit applicants. It is pending in the House of Delegates.
In Colorado, today’s Senate action follows weeks of debate featuring tearful testimony from relatives of those killed in Aurora and Newtown and thousands of e-mails to lawmakers from gun-rights supporters, who communicated their opposition March 4 by circling the capitol honking their car horns.
Erie, Colorado-based Magpul Industries Corp., the state’s largest firearm accessory maker, and companies that manufacture parts for it, said they would take hundreds of jobs elsewhere if the bill limiting magazines to 15 rounds and no more than 28 inches worth of shells for shotguns passed.
During debate March 8, Republican senators from rural areas argued the measures were backed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and residents living on the urban Front Range who are disconnected to the state’s frontier heritage. Bloomberg is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
“There are an awful lot of people in my district who will end up being criminals under this, not for any other crime than being in possession of a magazine,” said Senator Ellen Roberts, a Republican from Durango.
“In less than 20 minutes I’m in the state of New Mexico,” Roberts said. “Arizona is 40 minutes away -- how are we asking our county sheriffs to figure out how to implement something like this? On the Front Range you are insulated -- that’s not the world I live in.”
Democrats declared victory after five bills were approved on a voice vote, saying Colorado is paving the way for other states.
“During the last three months we’ve experienced hatred and vitriol I haven’t seen since I was on the streets as a police officer,” said Senate President John Morse, a Colorado Springs Democrat. “This debate on reducing gun violence in this country needs to happen and I’m proud to represent Colorado.”
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