Representatives of those affected by every recent mass shooting were among the throngs of people jamming the Colorado state capitol Monday to testify before a pair of Senate committees considering seven controversial gun-control bills.
This group included Mark Kelly, whose wife, former Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabby Giffords, was shot in the head during a constituent meeting in Tucson, and Jane Dougherty, whose sister, school psychologist Mary Sherlock, was killed in the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre.
During their testimony and those of others, the sound of blaring horns could be heard outside the third floor hearing room. Cars and pickup truck adorned with American flags and signs saying “Don’t Tread On Me” circled the capitol building in protest of the legislation, and provided an audible backdrop to the committee proceedings.
Inside the building, the hallways and balconies were jammed with hundreds of National Rifle Association members and other Second Amendment advocates who had answered calls to show up en masse to make their voices heard. Despite wind and driving snow, dozens held vigil outside the capitol waving signs and encouraging motorists to honk their horns in support. The building was even circled by a plane towing a sign reading “HICK: DON’T TAKE OUR GUNS!”
Kelly testified in support of a bill that would require background checks for all gun sales, even private transactions.
“Rights demand responsibility,” Kelly said, adding that both he and Giffords are gun owners. “And this right does not extend to criminals. … When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable. At the movies, at church, conducting our everyday business, meeting with a government official and — time after time after time — at school, on our campuses and in our children’s classrooms.”
He was followed by Dougherty, who said that being required to submit to a background check isn’t a burden on people who want to buy guns.
“A burden is hearing about a mass shooting at your sister’s school and getting a call … that your sister is gone,” she said.
Committee members also heard from the family of victims of the Aurora theater and Columbine High School shootings. Some of the committee members were visibly moved by the testimony.
Opponents of the bill, including representatives of the NRA and Colorado largest gun-rights group, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, called the bill unconstitutional and unnecessary. Others noted that enhanced background checks wouldn’t have prevented recent tragedies.
NRA lobbyist Daniel Carey said a similar law in California hasn’t had an impact on gun-related crime.
“There has been no attributable benefit to having this in California,” he said.
In large part, Monday was a replay of similar testimony that was heard when the bill cleared the House a few weeks ago, including that it once again passed out of the committee on a party-line vote.
Four of the seven bills to be heard Monday have already passed the House. Three others — including what is arguably the most contentious bill, one that would make owners, sellers and makers of assault-style weapons liable for any damage those weapons cause — were scheduled to make their debut.
Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has indicated his support for many of the gun bills that have been introduced.
“They’re doing feel-good legislation right now and it’s got nothing to do with all the things that have happened,” said protester Brian Gamache, who arrived at 6 a.m. to wave a sign on a frigid street corner, even though he didn’t think it would change what was happening inside.
“We’re at the point where a reasonable man can’t get up and go through the day without breaking some law,” he said. “They’ve already got their minds made up.”
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