After long hours of debate Friday, the Democratic-controlled Colorado state Senate passed most of the gun control bills that have divided the state and drawn the attention of both gun-control and gun-rights advocates from around the country.
But two of the most contentious bills — one which would ban concealed weapons on college campuses and one that would make owners, sellers and manufacturers of assault-style weapons liable for violent acts committed with the guns — died when their sponsors pulled them from the agenda after it became clear that at least three or more Democrats would vote against them.
Democrats hold a 20-15 majority in the Senate, and Republicans — fully aware that this was the last and best chance to kill some of the legislation — made impassioned arguments against the proposals throughout the day in the hope of swaying Democrats who were on the fence.
An early victory for Second Amendment proponents came amid rumors that the sponsor of the concealed carry bill felt he didn’t have the votes to move it on to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.
The bill had already passed the full House and a Senate committee, but proved to be a gaffe-generator for the lawmakers who supported it.
Opponents seized on controversial comments made by Democrats to portray them as skeptical that armed women are responsible enough to carry weapons and as patronizing to rape victims. Social media amplified the portrayals and Democrats have spent much of their time with this bill denying that they’re waging a “war on women.”
Sen. Rollie Heath, the bill’s sponsor, eventually pulled the bill before it came up for debate.
But the assault weapons liability bill — which opponents characterized as a de facto ban on such weapons — was easily the most controversial of the seven that were up for consideration on Friday. Senate president John Morse, who introduced the proposed legislation, railed against the gun lobby before he pulled it from the agenda, effectively killing it.
“The gun lobby has actually argued we need more guns and managed to convince Coloradans that they will lose their guns if we impose even reasonable restrictions on firearms,” he said. The bill would have opened the door for owners, sellers and makers of AR-15s and similar weapons to lawsuits if they cause damage. Makers and sellers would be liable under the bill if it was shown that they negligently sold the weapons to people they should have know would have used them in a crime.
Republicans have charged that the bill was purposely unpalatable in order to take attention away from other bills Democrats wanted to pass.
Although many lawmakers began looking tired and rumpled after hours in the Senate chamber, Republican will never seemed to lag throughout the long day. Speech after impassioned speech invoked America’s long legacy with firearms, with many lawmakers becoming emotional during their comments.
Senators invoked everything from the “shot heard round the world” that began the Revolutionary War to the fact that Navy SEALS on the Osama bin Laden kill team used an ammunition magazine made by Colorado company Magpul Industries.
Magul threatens to leave Colorado if a bill limiting such magazines to no more than 15 rounds becomes law, a decision that came one step closer to reality on Friday when, after nearly seven hours of debate on this bill alone, the Senate gave its initial approval.
In total, five bills advanced on Friday: one requiring universal background checks on firearms purchases, one requiring gun buyers pay for the background checks, one prohibiting gun ownership by people who’ve committed domestic violence, one prohibiting online training for concealed carry permits, and the ban on high-capacity magazines.
In comments made before spiking his gun liability bill, Morse said he was glad Colorado had the debate about gun control, but he said that it had often crossed lines of civility. One man was arrested in recent weeks for allegedly threatening lawmakers.
“We have experienced hatred and vitriol that I have only seen on the street as a police officer,” Morse said. “This has included wishing rape, torture and death on legislators and their families.”
The domestic violence and online training bills will now head to the Democratic-controlled House. The others need only to officially clear the Senate, before heading to Hickenlooper’s office, where he’s expected to sign them into law.
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