The issue of gun safety has dominated the past few weeks of the 2013 legislative session. It started with four bills in the House, and then three new bills met them in the Senate. These bills reached the Senate floor, and on Friday, March 8, 2013, the Senate spent 14 hours debating this package of gun-related legislation. Seven bills were on the floor, but only five survived.
Since the beginning of the gun debate I’ve been watching from a distance. As Chair of the Joint Budget Committee I keep plenty busy. I’m not sponsoring or taking a lead role in the gun bills, so I could sit back and watch and listen as they progressed. I was familiar with the debate around HB 1228, the bill charging a fee for background checks, because the JBC has debated this issue for the past several years. It’s not really a gun bill, but instead a question of fiscal policy, and I’ve supported this change since my first year on JBC. But for the rest of the bills I listened to the debate and learned more about the issues.
And the debate has been interesting, noisy and intense. My office has received more calls and emails about guns than any other issue this year. We’re hearing from both sides, and the volume has been overwhelming to keep up with. Most of the messages have been from people outside Senate District 31, and indeed, all over the country. But I’ve also heard from plenty of constituents, and I have a pretty clear idea of where most of them stand. It’s time for common sense approaches that keep guns out of the wrong hands.
I voted for all five of the bills that passed the Senate on Friday. Some were easier decisions than others. Background checks for gun sales should be required in all settings, not just at licensed dealers and gun shows. The background check system needs this integrity. It should be uniformly applied and the users of the system, the people making gun purchases, should pay a fee to support its operation. I support both HB 1229 and HB 1228.
SB 195 requires applicants for concealed weapons permits to take the required training course in person with a certified instructor. It prohibits courses taught entirely online, which are currently accepted in some jurisdictions. This bill makes sense and has the most support of any in the package.
SB 197 amends state law to give effect to the requirements of federal law. It requires people who have been convicted of domestic violence crimes, as well as those who have domestic violence protection orders entered against them by a court of law, to relinquish their firearms. Federal law prohibits gun possession by such offenders but up until now we’ve had no way to enforce this requirement in Colorado. SB 197 addresses this gap in our law and will help keep victims of domestic violence safer.
Finally, HB 1224 limits the size of high capacity magazines to no more than 15 bullets. In the worst mass shootings, such as Sandy Hook and Aurora, a common element was high capacity magazines that allowed the shooter to fire many rounds before stopping to reload. This bill makes exceptions for law enforcement and the military, but beyond that I see no need for more than 15 bullets at the ready. This is perhaps the most controversial bill of the bunch, but I think it has the potential to limit the scope of future tragedies, which is exactly what these bills aim to accomplish.
Two bills failed on Friday. Sen. Rollie Heath moved to postpone HB 1226 until after the conclusion of the session, effectively killing it. This bill would have added buildings and sporting venues on college campuses to the list of places where concealed weapons are not allowed. Senate President John Morse also moved to kill his own bill, laying it over to May 10, 2013. SB 196 addressed civil liability standards for harm caused by certain assault weapons. It created quite a stir, but it did not get a thorough debate on the Senate floor.
On Monday, March 11, 2013, the five remaining bills will receive a final vote. I plan to vote for all five.
I appreciate all the input I have received on this issue, especially from constituents residing in Senate District 31. I know we don’t all agree, but I believe my position on these bills is aligned with that of the majority of my constituents.