Dozens of gun reform advocates watched a group of silently prone teenagers and volunteers at the Colorado Capitol Tuesday. The "lie-in" was meant to protest bills to open up Colorado gun restrictions — Democrats later defeated the proposals in a marathon committee hearing.
Eileen McCarron, an organizer with Colorado Ceasefire, said the demonstration was also a memorial. Seventeen activists lay on the plaza on the west side of the Capitol to symbolize the number students and teachers killed in Parkland, Florida. Demonstrators stayed for three minutes, the amount of time they say it took the gunman to obtain an automatic rifle.
"It is time to do something about the awful gun violence going on in our country," McCarron said.
A group of teens held a similar "lie-in" at the start of the week outside of the White House to demand tougher gun laws. Teenagers also packed the Colorado event. Aaron Nice, a Littleton High School senior, skipped classes to join the rally along with several friends from his school theater program.
“We hate that we have to feel scared in places we should feel protected,” he said. “We hate that we have to look at contingency plans and exit plans all the time. We want just want to feel safer.”
In Colorado, the demonstration was scheduled ahead of a committee vote on three Republican-backed bills to open up state gun laws. One bill would have extended Colorado's "make-my-day law" to businesses, allowing them to protect their property with deadly force. Another would repeal Colorado's controversial ban on certain ammunition magazines, a 2013 law that was signed eight months after the Aurora Theater Shooting. The third bill would have allowed people with concealed carry permits to have a handgun on school property.
That final bill gained the most attention at the rally. Democratic State Rep. Alec Garnett told the crowd that “we should be arming our teachers with books and our students with ideas, not more guns.”
The fate of the bills was all but sealed before the hearing. Each had been assigned to the House State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, which has come to play host to what insiders call the annual “gun bill day.” That’s when Democratic lawmakers, who control the House, block Republican efforts to loosen Colorado gun laws.
Even so, Republican House Minority Leader Patrick Neville made his case for the plan to allow concealed weapons on school grounds.
“I cannot stress this enough: this bill is meant to deter mass shooter,” Neville said.
The Douglas County representative survived the Columbine school shooting in 1999. He told the committee that if his bill had been law at the time, the shooting could have prevented and many of his friends would still be alive.
Rep. Jovan Melton, a Democrat from Aurora, told Neville the burden to protect children with lethal force should not fall on educators.
“We don’t ask law enforcement to teach math because that’s not what they’re trained to do,” Melton said. “So why are you asking teachers, ... who don’t get weapons training, to be able to carry a gun in a place with vulnerable children?”
Cameron Berry, a senior at Heritage High School in Littleton, was one of several teens to testify in opposition to the bill. She said supporting the measure was to say that “shootings can and do happen and that we will do nothing to keep them from happening. But here, have a gun. Do your best.”
After six hours of testimony, Democrats on the committee voted down the measure on a party-line vote. The final two measures were defeated later in the evening.