Saturday, March 09, 2013 4:43 am
Partial victory for Democratic gun bills in Colo.
By IVAN MORENO and KRISTEN WYATTAssociated Press
Friday's action came with the state viewed as a bellwether of how far politically moderate states are willing to go with new gun laws in the wake of mass shootings in a suburban Denver movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school. It's also playing out in a state that was the scene of one of the nation's most high-profile school massacres - the 1999 Columbine High School shootings.
Already the White House has weighed in, with Vice President Joe Biden phoning four lawmakers while on a recent ski vacation here to nudge the Democrats during their first major gun debate last month.
"The eyes of the entire nation are upon us. What we do here today matters to everybody," Republican Sen. Greg Brophy said Friday. Brophy represents a rural district in Colorado's eastern plains.
Senate Democrats advanced Colorado's strictest gun measures in years after a 12-hour debate - but not every proposal survived.
Democrats moved forward with universal background checks to include gun purchases between private parties and sales conducted online. And they advanced a bill limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. A gun ban for people accused of domestic violence also got initial approval.
But Democrats withdrew two of the most controversial pieces - a gun ban on college campuses and a measure to hold assault-weapon owners liable for damages caused by their weapons. At least three Democrats were planning to side with the GOP, a margin big enough to defeat those measures.
Democratic Senate President John Morse claimed victory in the state's overall gun-control debate, even as he conceded the battle grew ugly.
"Cleansing a sickness from our souls doesn't come easy. It's gruesome," Morse said in a short speech announcing the withdrawal of his assault-weapon liability measure.
Morse's comments punctuated a nasty, drawn-out debate that drew thousands to the state Capitol over recent days.
Some Democrats have reported getting threatening emails and phone calls. One man is facing criminal charges for aggressive messages he allegedly sent a Democratic sponsor of some of the bills.
Lobbying has also been intense. A suburban gun accessory maker that has threatened to leave the state if the magazine limit passes sent company executives to lobby wavering Democrats on that measure.
Republicans in the Senate took turns criticizing the gun bills Friday, while Democrats rarely spoke.
The bills expanding background checks and the magazine limits have already cleared the House. But the proposals still face a final Senate vote next week, when Republicans are expected to continue making a stand. Republicans took to Twitter immediately after debate concluded late Friday to urge changed votes by Monday.
Republicans argued that the bills wouldn't reduce gun violence and that mental health treatment should be expanded instead.
"We can make as many laws as we want. Until we change the hearts of man, they're going to continue to do evil things," said Republican Sen. Scott Renfroe.
Democrats insisted the measures don't compromise Colorado's gun-loving heritage.
"I'm a gun owner, and I have been since I was 12 years old," said Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver. "What is before us is not a constitutional question but a policy question."
In all, lawmakers went through seven firearms bills Fridays while philosophical barbs about gun rights peppered the debate.
"This is a day of dysfunctionalism," griped Republican Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction.
Democrats frequently cited the Connecticut school shooting and the Colorado theater shooting as they argued the limits are needed.
Arguing for the magazine ammunition limits, Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge said the change to Colorado's heritage and the potential inconveniences on gun owners paled in comparison to the pain of gun violence.
"This bill is merely an attempt to reduce the slaughter," Hodge said.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he would sign into law a magazine limit and a background-check expansion.
Talking to a group of high school journalists Thursday, Hickenlooper said he's keeping his options open.
"I'm not in any way an anti-gun person," the governor said.
Ivan Moreno can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/IvanJourno and Kristen Wyatt at http://www.twitter.com/APkristenwyatt