Democrats in the Colorado House of Representatives worked late and long on Friday to approve four new gun control measures. They were opposed every step of the way by Republican legislators but, in the end, they got it done. The measures were approved by a voice vote on Friday night and will be ready for a formal vote on Monday.
Colorado has been reeling from the impact of two of the worst mass murders in the history of the nation–the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 and the movie theater shooting in Aurora last summer. State Representative Rhonda Fields, D- Aurora, sponsored two pieces of the legislation. In 2005, her son also died by gunshot. Fields said:
“There is a common thread that we see in these massacres. They’re using high-capacity magazines so they can unleash as many bullets as they can, to kill as many people as they can, in our schools, our theaters and our churches.”
The debate was contentious, with little Republican support forthcoming. Field’s co-sponsor on one of the bills, Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, added:
“We continue to hear that responsible gun owners do not commit crimes. So it’s hard for me to understand how responsible gun owners would have any objections to this bill. All this is doing is requiring everyone to go through the same background check.”
The package of bills includes background checks for all gun purchases, payment for those checks by applicants, a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 15 rounds, and permission for colleges to ban concealed weapons on campus. They were passed because, since the November election, Democrats hold a 37-28 majority in the House. Before the election, Republicans had a 33-32 majority.
Lest anyone fear that the bills will stall further down the road, the next step is approval by the state Senate, where Democrats are in the majority by 20-15. The final step is the signature of Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat. The governor has already said he supports three of the four bills, and he is still reviewing the weapons-on-campus legislation.
The effort in the House got a last-minute boost from Vice President Joe Biden, who was in Colorado on a ski trip. He called four wavering Democrats to urge their support. Tony Exum of Colorado Springs summed up the Veep’s message:
“He said it would send a strong message to the rest of the country that a Western state had passed gun-control bills.”
Republican lawmakers were darkly predicting that Democrats from swing districts were going to lose their next elections. One presumably vulnerable representative, Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, came back with the perfect counter:
“I have to stand up and do what I think is right. I’m not going to worry about what they’re going to slice and dice and run against me. I have to vote for what I think is correct, what I think my district supports and what my conscience supports.”
Hopefully, he also reflects the conscience of the nation. Regardless, Colorado has set a courageous example for other states to follow.