DENVER - After more than eight hours of public testimony Tuesday, Democrats passed out of committee two gun-control measures that would create universal background checks and limit high-capacity magazines to 15 rounds.
The bills were the first to be heard of sweeping gun regulations proposed by Democrats this year in the wake of the Aurora movie theater shooting, and they will now head to the House Appropriations Committee and the House floor, respectively.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, authored both bills and defended the measures against an onslaught of criticism from gun rights advocates who filled the committee chambers at the Capitol wearing stickers saying "I vote pro-gun."
Universal Background Checks
Under current law, buyers of firearms at certified dealers or gun shows must pass a background check performed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
There is no background check performed, however, when a firearm is sold or transferred between individuals. But House Bill 229 would change that.
"The private sale loophole is just a way for criminals to skirt around our current background check and it contributes to the murder of 34 Americans every single day," Fields said. "Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers and the seriously mentally ill and other abusers from buying firearms."
Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, told Fields the bill would have done nothing to prevent the Aurora shooting in her district and will do little for public safety.
"What we're doing is imposing a higher restraint on one's right to keep and bear arms," said Gardner, who was one of four votes against both bills.
Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, voted in favor of the bills and said no constitutional rights are absolute and all are subject to reasonable restraint on things such as time and place in the interest of public safety.
"The balancing that we have to do to protect our amendment rights while promoting our public safety rights is the challenging task we have as representatives," Lee said. "What we need to do is prevent people who want to do us violence from obtaining weapons."
Ronald Sloan, director of the CBI, spoke in favor of the bill.
A fiscal analysis estimates the additional background checks would require 25 additional staff members at CBI and would cost $1.6 million in 2013.
The proposed bill allows for the transfer of firearms between immediate family members. It would be a misdemeanor to violate the law.
Private sellers would go to licensed gun dealers and pay $10 to have the required background check performed.
"This bill would place an unjust burden on law abiding citizens who may live miles, two hours, from the nearest gun dealer where they would have to go and register or go through and do a background check procedure," said Daniel Carey, lobbyist for the National Rifle Association. He said a similar requirement in California had failed to increase public safety.
High capacity magazines
Fields' second bill bans magazines that hold more than 15 bullets, but provides a grandfather clause to allow current owners to keep their high-capacity magazines.
"The motivation behind this bill is based on what happened in Aurora on July 20," Fields said. "A shooter killed 12 people and he injured 58 ... in 90 seconds he was able to do that kind of damage."
The family of victims from the Columbine and Aurora massacres and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut testified in favor the bill, talking about how loved ones could have survived if the shooter had to take time to reload.
A representative from Magpul, a manufacturing company based in Colorado that produces high-capacity magazines for both domestic and foreign militaries, testified that the multi-million dollar company that employs 200 people would have to move out of the state if the bill is passed.
About the Bills
HB229: Requires background checks for the sale or transfer of a firearm between two individuals, and makes violation of the law a misdemeanor, as well as, holding the seller liable for damages if the gun is misused.
Authors: Representatives Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora; Beth McCann, D-Denver; and Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora
Action: Passed House Judiciary Committee 7-4
Next Step: House Appropriations Committee
HB224: Bans the sale or transfer of magazines that hold more than 15 bullets or 8 shotgun shells, requiring manufacturers to date-stamp and serial number newly produced magazines. Current owners are grandfathered in and a violation is a misdemeanor.
Authors: Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora; Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton
Action: Passed House Judiciary Committee 7-4
Next Step: House floor
Background Checks 2012
The Colorado Bureau of Investigations performs background checks on every person attempting to buy a firearm in Colorado from a licensed dealer or gun show. Demand in December increased the wait for a background check up to 10 days. In 2012, the agency reported:
--343,302 background checks
--7,362 denied total
Firearm deaths in perspective
In 2010, the National Vital Statistics Report was released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showing estimates for the leading causes of death based on evidence.
Discharge of firearm 606
Exposure to smoke 2,782
Poisoning and noxious substances 33,041
Discharge of firearms 19,392
Alcohol related 25,692
Fatal injury by firearms 31,672
Source: National Vital Statistics Report "Deaths: Final Data for 2010"
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