Fightin’ words over gun control

Dems’ package of legislation likely to face fierce opposition

DENVER – Democrats unveiled a package of eight gun-control bills Tuesday, including background checks for private sales and liability for assault-weapon manufacturers.

The proposal sets the stage for the state’s biggest fight over gun control since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School.

The bills seek a number of changes that have pro-gun rights lawmakers up in arms. They include:

Full legal liability for anyone who makes, buys, sells or owns an assault weapon that is used in a shooting.

Background checks for all gun sales, even between private parties.

A ban on sale of magazines of more than 10 bullets.

A requirement for mental-health workers to report potentially dangerous people to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, for the purpose of gun-sale background checks.

A stronger ban on gun sales to people with a history of domestic violence.

A fee on background checks, paid by the buyer.

Required in-person training for concealed-weapons permits.

A ban on concealed weapons in most parts of college campuses.

“We are taking a measured approach that respects the rights of hunters and sportsmen,” said Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “The legislation we introduce today will not bring all gun violence in Colorado to a screeching halt, but it will reduce gun violence. It will mean fewer devastated families.”

Opponents, though, vowed to fight the bills.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said the first bill would effectively ban assault weapons by letting gun manufacturers and sellers be sued for acts of violence.

“This is the equivalent of holding Coors, the distributor and the 7-Eleven from which the 12-pack was stolen responsible for the drunken driving accident. I can’t believe how extreme this is,” Brophy said.

And Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs, said residents need guns to protect themselves.

“The extreme liberal wing of the ruling class would rather make us criminals, than allow us to protect our families from criminals,” Cadman said in a prepared statement.

With Democrats in control of the Legislature, success for the gun-control agenda will come down to a handful of swing Democrats and Gov. John Hickenlooper. That fact wasn’t lost on either side of the debate.

Jane Dougherty, a Colorado woman who lost her sister in the Connecticut elementary-school shooting, pleaded for legislators to act.

Her sister, Mary Sherlach, died while running toward the gunman, she said.

“As our elected representatives, it is your job to keep our citizens safer,” Dougherty said. “Be brave. Be brave like my sister.”

But Dudley Brown, head of the influential lobby group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, said his group would target legislators with ads and mail pieces sent to their voters.

“At some point, the weak knees are going to start knocking in the Legislature. We’re calling their bluff,” Brown said.

Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, said he was leaning toward supporting the background check and mental-health bills, but he’s reserving judgment on the rest.

“I’m still getting input from constituents, and I’ve yet to formulate my final decisions on the gun situation,” McLachlan said.

Hickenlooper was the first senior Colorado politicians to call for a debate on gun control, which he did coincidentally a day before the Connecticut school massacre.

He was not at Tuesday’s news conference, but his spokesman said he supports the universal background check bill.

Hickenlooper is “open to a conversation” about limiting magazine sizes, and he will carefully look at the assault-weapon liability bill, said his spokesman, Eric Brown.

“Our office will continue to work with the General Assembly to balance Second Amendment rights with calls for tighter gun laws, while also making sure we strengthen the state’s mental-health services and support system,” Brown said.

The text and details of the bills had not been released Tuesday, and Democrats expected to introduce most of the bills in the next few days.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

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