Few issues in recent memory have riled Colorado politics like the gun laws Democrats approved last year in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting.
On Monday, Colorado’s legislature is likely to see a flashback of that passionate, contentious showdown, when a committee hears testimony on a bill to repeal criminal background checks for private gun sales.
Last fall, the bill's sponsor, Pueblo Republican George Rivera, replaced one of two Democratic senators ousted in recall elections fueled by opposition to gun reform laws.
“I believe we’re going to have a significant number of people that are going to come by and express how they feel and probably on both sides of the aisle,” Rivera said. “I don’t know and can’t guarantee they’ll all be for the repeal of the bill. I anticipate we’re going to have a lot of people.”
Discussion of the bill is assigned to the Senate’s largest hearing room, and could be moved to the even larger old Supreme Court chambers if needed, according to committee chairman Democrat Jessie Ulibarri, who represents Adams County.
“It’s important for me that we insure every single person who has traveled, whether it’s 20 minutes, or four hours or seven hours, regardless of where they come from, that they have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the bill,” Ulibarri said. “I think this bill specifically causes passions to run high on both sides and so I think this will probably be one of the most contentious bills that we hear. And at the crux, for both, I think will be public safety.”
Republicans have called the gun laws Democrats passed last year overreaching and they’re pushing no fewer than eight bills to reverse those measures. They believe public opinion and momentum are on their side.
“I have to believe the concerns are probably statewide but I’ll tell you for sure in Pueblo the people who voted for the recall are still adamant about the fact that their Second Amendment rights have been infringed on,” Sen. Rivera said.
Democrats say they believe the laws they passed, which included a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines, are common-sense reforms that will make the public safer.
Since implementing the background check law in July, 104 people who were convicted of crimes have been denied the purchase of a gun, according to Sen. Ulibarri.
“So I think the law has worked pretty well,” Sen. Ulibarri said. “I think we’ll see maybe a different conversation this year.”
Sen. Rivera dismissed the notion background checks are aiding public safety.
“I was in law enforcement for 34 years,” Sen. Rivera said. “Honest, law-abiding people are going to obey the law, and criminals are going to break the law. No matter what laws you put into place, criminals are going to break them.”
The public debate began playing out on Thursday as Denver-area religious leaders held a news conference at the Capitol to call for civility during the gun debate.
“We’re very grateful as clergy that we live in a country that allows us to have open debate,” Rev. Del Phillips of the House Worship Center said.
The group called for lawmakers to keep in place the laws passed last year.
“Laws like these that are clearly already protecting our communities need to be preserved and we need our elected officials to stand strong the in face of misguided opposition,” Rabbi Joseph Black of Temple Emmanuel said.