The last time state lawmakers tightened controls on gun ownership was more than a decade ago. But Democrats in the statehouse are hoping to change that record. They’ll soon introduced a raft of legislation they say will help lower gun crime. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports on what’s being proposed.
[The following is a transcript of Megan's report]
Reporter Megan Verlee: When Democratic lawmakers stood before the media Tuesday morning to unveil their gun control bills, they didn’t come alone. Relatives of recent mass shooting victims lined up behind them. Jessica Watts’ cousin was killed in the Aurora theater attack last July. She wants to see specific changes.
Jessica Watts, cousin of shooting victim: "We need to do something about these high capacity magazines that allow these killers to kill in a matter of seconds. And we need to do something about these assault weapons that belong in the battlefields, not in the movie theaters."
Reporter: When it comes to high capacity magazines, Democrats are proposing an outright ban on any device that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition. It’s less clear what they’ll do with military-style weapons. Senate president John Morse is working on a bill that would hold gun manufacturers, sellers, and owners liable for crimes committed with a high powered rifle or shotgun.
President John Morse [D-Colorado Springs]: "I hope that it will incent the corporate gun community to stop relying on the government to keep guns out of the wrong people’s hands and use their own ingenuity to make sure guns are sold only to those who are going to be responsible for them."
Reporter: Opponents say such a bill would have the practical effect of outlawing those guns, because gun stores couldn’t take the risk. Much of the other legislation in the Democratic package deals with the background check system for gun sales. One bill would expand checks to include private gun sales. Another would impose a fee, around 10 dollars, for each background check, to cover the cost of the program. And Democrats want to add more mental health information into the database used to approve or deny sales The response to these proposals started as soon as the Democratic press conference wrapped up. Dudley Brown runs the group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
Dudley Brown, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners: "We’re going to oppose these. We’re going to work very hard to defeat them all."
Reporter: Brown accused Democrats of infringing on Second Amendment rights and called the bills ineffectual.
Brown: "None of these suggested solutions to the shootings would have stopped any of the shootings. Adam Lanza and James Holmes, by all records, would still have been able to acquire firearms."
Reporter: No policy, says Brown, short of total gun confiscation, can end mass shootings in the United States. Instead he went on to offer free concealed weapons classes to survivors of the Aurora theater attack, and had this warning for lawmakers.
Brown: "I think the question for the Democrat caucus is, are you really ready to stake the 2014 elections on the gun issue?"
Reporter: Brown says his members are targeting pressure on lawmakers who might support gun control. One legislator Brown needn’t worry about is Republican Senator Kevin Lundberg. He singles out universal background checks as a particular worry, saying they’ll lead to mandatory gun registration.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg [R-Berthoud]: "It’s the only way that can be enforced or in any way managed, is if you know where every gun is. I’m sorry, I can’t go down that road."
Reporter: For their part, Republicans have introduced bills this session that would allow people to carry weapons in some schools and more businesses. They say an armed public is the best way to deter future attacks. So far, Democrats have killed all of those measures that have reached committee. Whether the gun control proposals meet with any more success is still a question. Aurora Representative Rhonda Fields is sponsoring two of the measures. She admits many of her fellow Democrats are waiting to see the legislation in its final form before committing their support.
Rep. Rhonda Fields [D-Aurora]: "There’s a lot of pressure from all of us. We’re getting gobs and gobs of emails for and against gun reform. So only time will tell how it’s going to play out."
Reporter: Lawmakers say they’ve received hundreds of messages so far, and the bills haven’t even been introduced yet. another sign that gun control is likely to be one of the hottest issues the legislature grapples with this session.