DENVER – The Colorado House passed four gun-control bills Monday after a debate that has drawn attention from the White House.
Vice President Joe Biden called four Colorado House Democrats, including Durango’s Mike McLachlan, on Friday to urge them to fight for the slate of bills.
“He was encouraging me to vote yes on the bills and also to hang tight in what’s been a very difficult battle,” McLachlan said.
McLachlan voted for all four bills: a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines, background checks for private-party gun sales, fees for background checks and a ban on concealed weapons at colleges.
A pro-gun group ran a full-page ad in The Durango Herald to pressure McLachlan to vote no, and his office – like many other House offices – has been flooded with calls.
The votes will reverberate beyond McLachlan’s Southwest Colorado district. President Barack Obama used his State of the Union address to call on Congress to vote on gun-control bills, and Biden – Obama’s point-man on the issue – told McLachlan that he’s looking to Colorado.
“He said that Colorado has an opportunity to become a leader in the gun-safety area, and that people are watching. I agree with the vice president on that,” McLachlan said.
In a Sunday interview on NBC, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he thinks most senators will support a bill for universal background checks, similar to a bill the Colorado House passed Monday on a near party-line vote.
Opponents – mostly Republicans – complained about the White House lobbying.
“This is the West. I really don’t appreciate that we are being unduly influenced in this body by East Coast politicians telling us what to do,” said Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock.
But the sponsor of the ammunition magazine limit, Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, said she started working on the issue after the movie theater massacre in her district last summer, long before Obama made gun issues a national priority.
“This is not something that’s based on some kind of White House, Washington influence,” Fields said.
The debate took four hours Monday and 13 hours Friday, and it often turned emotional.
Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, was one of at least three lawmakers who choked up during the debate. He said he cared passionately about the U.S. Constitution.
“The Second Amendment is not about hunting, the Second Amendment is not our defense against pheasants. The Second Amendment is our defense as citizens against tyranny,” Holbert said.
Tyranny, he said, includes assault by criminals.
Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, said probably 95 percent of his constituents oppose the gun bills. His district includes Montezuma County.
He said lawbreakers will not stop buying large magazines, any more than laws prevent people from using heroin or cocaine.
“We are doing nothing today to save children’s lives,” Coram said.
A Front Range business named Magpul, which makes gun magazines, has threatened to leave the state if the bill passes. A Democratic amendment to exempt manufacturers did not placate company executives.
“If you pass this, we will leave, and you will own it,” company officials posted on their Facebook page Sunday.
Although McLachlan voted for the magazine limit, he said he would like it to be raised, perhaps to 30 rounds of ammunition. The bill still has to go to the Senate and may come back to the House later this year.
“That’s the one that I am the most recalcitrant to continue to support,” McLachlan said.
McLachlan said he talked to Magpul representatives, but they are inflexible.
“They’re taking a completely pro-NRA position, which is no limitations are allowed, so as a result of that, they’re not at the table,” he said.
All four bills now go to the Senate.