State Lawmakers Likely to Consider Gun Control Bills

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Last week, governor John Hickenlooper said it’s time for the state to have a conversation about gun regulations. Some members of Colorado’s state legislature are ready to go beyond talking and start voting, on gun control bills. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee reports on what may be on the table.

Some of the voices in this story came from our Public Insight Network. To find out how you can contribute to our reporting, click here.

The following is a transcript of Megan Verlee's report:

Reporter Megan Verlee: Democratic State Representative Rhonda Fields has experienced the cost of gun violence up close. Her son was murdered seven years ago, and her Aurora district includes the Century 16 theater where this summer’s massacre took place.

Rep. Rhonda Fields (D-Aurora): For me, enough is enough already, and I can no longer ignore that this is going on.

Reporter: So Fields is working with gun control groups on possible legislation for next year’s session. If she goes ahead with it, this will be the first time in nearly a decade that state lawmakers will consider tightening restrictions on gun ownership and use. In recent years, all the bills involving firearms have focused on loosening regulations.

Fields: I believe the tide has changed, and after the events that happened in Connecticut there’s no way that any of us can feel like there’s just nothing that should be done.

Reporter: What exactly will be done is still in question. Fields and her allies are looking at requiring background checks for firearm sales between individuals, not just at stores and gun shows. They’re also considering new ways to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns. Representative Beth McCann, a Denver Democrat, is working with Fields on these and other proposals. She says they could go further.

Rep. Beth McCAnn (D-Denver): I do think the availability of these large assault weapons and large magazines is another area to think about.

Reporter: McCann stresses that she and Fields haven’t yet decided which policies their bills will actually tackle. House Minority leader Mark Waller, a Republican, says the policies being proposed don’t address the deeper causes of gun crimes and won’t stop people bent on murder.

Rep. Mark Waller (R-Colorado Springs): If there was a piece of gun control legislation that would help keep my children safe, I would be all over working to pass that legislation. But I just don’t see how gun control legislation actually keeps people safer.

Reporter: Waller cautions his Democratic colleagues that if they do go ahead with stricter gun control policies, they’d better make sure the public is behind them.

Waller: Voters have spoken in this state time and time again and said, “the Second Amendment is one of those Constitutional rights that we want to have protected.” And I guess it remains to be seen how far the Democrats are going to take legislation that will erode the Second Amendment in the state of Colorado."

Reporter: One of the voters they’d likely upset is Mark Vanderbrook. The Morrison resident bought a gun years ago for self defense and is concerned that any policy changes, especially any type of gun ban, would be driven by emotion, not reason.

Mark Vanderbrook: What concerns me is, banning assault weapons would be a first step. And that accomplished, I think there are a lot of people who would like to move forward and incrementally ban more and more weapons until all guns are banned.

Reporter: But longtime gun owner Brian Helminiak of Fort Collins says the slippery slope argument shouldn’t be an excuse for inaction. The massacres in Connecticut and Aurora have him thinking more about the types of gun restrictions he supports. But Helminiak isn’t optimistic he’ll see those changes soon.

Brian Helminiak: We know it’s going to a long fight, so hopefully people can be reasonable about it. There’s no sense in getting up in arms, because we know things don’t happen that quickly in this country.

Reporter: The first chance to see whether there is any movement on the issue of gun control could come early next year, when state lawmakers have to settle on which specific bills they’ll introduce during the legislative session.

[Photo: flickr/Svadilfari]