Colorado Republicans revived the most contentious debate of the last legislative session when they tried to repeal gun purchase background checks.
State Sen. George Rivera, the Republican who replaced Democrat Angela Giron when she was recalled from office because of her support of this and other new gun control laws, sponsored the bill.
Most of the testimony revolved around the question of whether or not the new law — which requires background checks not only for gun purchases at retail stores but also in private sales between individuals — will help reduce violent crime. A background check is also required if a gun is loaned to someone for more than 72 hours, such as for hunting, sport shooting or safekeeping.
Opponents of the repeal pointed to 104 instances of potential gun buyers failing background checks during attempted private transactions since the law went into effect on July 1. The reasons ranged from previous convictions for homicide to sexual assault.
On average, Colorado conducts 1,000 background checks for private transactions per month. The denial rate is about 2 percent, similar to the overall denial rate on all background checks.
Daniel Carey, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said there is no evidence the law impacts violent crime rates. He called it “unnecessary and unconstitutional.”
“These laws have failed to prove any benefit to curbing violent crime,” he said.
Tom Mauser, whose son was killed during the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, asked the committee members not to fall for the argument that criminals don’t submit to background checks, pointing to the statistics on denials.
“The real question for you here is are we going to make it easier for them?” he said.
At one point during the hearing, Republican Rep. Ted Harvey said he sympathized with a teacher who supported the background check law, even though he wants to repeal it because he said it’s unenforceable. His son was in Arapahoe High School in December when a student brought a shotgun to school and killed another student before taking his own life.
“My issue is that we have a lot of law-abiding citizens who are breaking the law because they don’t know they can’t lend a gun to a friend to go hunting,” Harvey said.
Several people who lost loved ones in recent mass shootings, including in the Aurora theater in 2012, testified against the repeal effort.
Republican Sen. Bernie Herpin, who replaced former Democratic Sen. John Morse — who was also recalled from office for his support of the gun laws — said “no background check or law would have prevented” the theater shootings or others.
“In the Arapahoe [High School] shooting, the perpetrator passed a background check, took his firearm into a gun free zone and committed murder,” he said.
The effort to repeal the background check requirement was a long shot from the beginning, having been passed along party lines in a Democratic-controlled legislature last year. Despite the recalls that turned over two seats to Republicans in the state Senate, Democrats still hold a majority in both chambers.
After more than six hours of testimony Monday, the bill was killed on a 3-2 party line vote.
Colorado set a record in 2013 for the number of people who tried to buy a gun. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation conducted almost 400,000 background checks last year.
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