Gun Bills Advance in Senate

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State Senators spent their Monday in marathon hearings, eventually passing seven Democratic gun control bills, all on party line votes. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee attended and reports on the scene at the Capitol.

[Sound of honking horns]

Reporter Megan Verlee: Monday’s hearings were always likely to be noisy, but the decibels started ratcheting up well before the committees convened, as convoys of cars circled the state Capitol, honking to show their opposition to the gun control package. The chorus of horns continued through the day, a clearly audible backdrop for much of the 12 hours of hearings. Inside the building, people lined the hallways, hoping for a chance to testify on the legislation.

Man: “Hi, I’m signed up to testify on...”

Sargent: "196?”

Man: “196.”

Reporter: The day started off with Senator Evie Hudak’s bill that would require domestic violence offenders to give up their guns.

Sen. Evie Hudak [D-Westminster]: "I believe we must do everything in our power about the alarming rate at which Coloradans, especially our women, are losing their lives due to domestic violence."

Reporter: Federal law requires people charged with or convicted of domestic abuse to surrender their weapons, but it’s up to the Colorado courts how strictly they enforce that law. Aaron Fransua says those courts failed his mother. She was killed two years ago, after leaving her abuser.

Aaron Fransua: “He should never have had gun. The courts were made aware of his threat, and that he had gun, yet nothing was done to take it away from him. And because of this, my mother was killed.”

Reporter: A number of Colorado sheriffs testified against the bill. They say Colorado courts are already doing a good job confiscating guns from dangerous domestic abusers. The committee also heard from gun owners like Elizabeth Martin of Montrose. Martin says her mother was a domestic violence victim, but she can’t support the move to stricter gun laws.

Elizabeth Martin: "This is my life, this is my world. Any infringement on our rights to own weapons, I’m against, because it starts small and it gets bigger and spreads wider."

Reporter: But gun control supporters argued this and other bills strike a fair balance between preserving gun rights and increasing public safety. Tom Mauser, who started working for gun control after his son was killed in the Columbine attack, testified in favor of restricting the size of ammunition magazines.

Tom Mauser: "We are clearly enabling disturbed people and gang members and terrorists to wreak havoc, injury and death. We can’t stop all people who want to repeat what my son’s killers did. But do we have to make it so doggone easy for them?"

Reporter: Debate over the gun bills stretched late into the night, but eventually all seven passed, every one of them on a party line vote. It was a result that frustrated many in the audience. Tim Greg of Bailey got up to testify on the last bill of the night, requiring in-person training for concealed weapons permits, but it was the process he really wanted to talk about.

Tim Greg: "These issues are very passionate, people feel railroaded, okay, because all this was scheduled today, the Gun Day at the state Capitol. People didn’t get a chance to testify. People are very frustrated."

Reporter: But Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, a Republican, does see some virtue to hearing all the bills on the same day.

Sen. Bill Cadman [R-Colorado Springs]: "We get paid to be here every day. Most of the people that’ll come and testify ... are probably giving up their ability to earn a paycheck that day. So I think facilitating their access is reasonable and responsible."

Reporter: Jim Heath gave up his day to come to the Capitol. He didn’t expect any of the testimony to change the committees’ votes, but felt it was important to be there.

Jim Heath: "Just to put folks on notice, if you make a vote, there’s a consequence to that and you will be held, hopefully not in a mean way, I don’t know how else to say it, but you’ll be held accountable for your vote."

Reporter: Both sides will have to wait for the next election to find out exactly what that accountability may be. As for the gun bills themselves, all of them are on track to be debated by the full Senate on Friday, in what will likely be another marathon day.

[Photo credit: MVerlee/CPR]