The gun debate gripping Colorado’s legislature moved to a new forum last night. Governor John Hickenlooper moderated a panel made up of lawmakers, law enforcement, and a legal expert on the topic, in front of a crowd of hundreds at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee attended the event and has the following report.
CPR will air a full hour of the governor's panel discussion during the next Showcase, airing Sunday at 2pm and next Monday evening at 9am.
Megan also reported on Colorado's gun control bills for National Public Radio's All Things Considered. You can listen to her report here.
Reporter Megan Verlee: Hickenlooper opened Tuesday evening's discussion by acknowledging how deeply the issue of gun policy can divide people in this state.
Gov. John Hickenlooper: "Over a third of the people in Colorado own at least one firearm, but at the same time, two of the worst shootings in history took place in Colorado."
Reporter: In response to recent mass shootings, Democratic Senate President John Morse argued it’s time to evaluate restrictions on the second amendment.
Senate President John Morse [D-Colorado Springs]: "I do think that all of the amendments of the constitution will be rebalanced on a regular basis, because the world moves forward."
Reporter: According to Morse, what’s needed now are background checks for all gun sales and restrictions on the size of ammunition magazines, to potentially limit the death toll during mass shootings. But conservative legal scholar Dave Kopel said it’s a mistake to ban larger magazines just because they’ve been used in some terrible crimes.
Dave Kopel, Independence Institute: "The Supreme Court says ‘no, that’s not the right approach, you not only look at what criminals do, you also look at what law abiding citizens do.’ And what law abiding citizens do is they commonly own handgun magazines up to twenty rounds."
Reporter: The conversation went beyond the current gun control bills, to what else needs to be done about gun violence. Democratic Representative Rhonda Fields and Republican District Attorney Ken Buck debated the best way to minimize accidental shootings, especially by children.
Rep. Rhonda Fields [D-Aurora]: "I think there needs to be some responsibility. If you have a gun it needs to be secured, it needs to be out of the way.”
Weld District Attorney Ken Buck: “And would you be in favor of gun safety classes in school? To make sure that... we have millions of guns.” [applause]
Reporter: Fields said she doesn’t think gun safety is an appropriate school topic. After the panel, Governor Hickenlooper said the lack of hard data has made it difficult for him to make up his mind on some control policies, including whether to ban larger capacity ammunition magazines.
Gov. Hickenlooper: "It’s a tough issue: I mean, how many lives do you save, and how real is the inconvenience to the people who want to have a larger capacity magazine and feel it’s essential for defending their house?"
The magazine size limit and Democratic bills are halfway through the process and should begin their path throug the state Senate soon. And there is still more gun control legislation expected later this session.