DENVER (AP/CBS4) – Colorado Democrats gave initial approval to expanding background checks on firearm purchases Tuesday, and they are considering ammunition limits as the debate over stricter gun laws intensifies with hundreds going to the state Capitol to be heard.
The bills are the latest responses to the mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school, tragedies that heightened the national discussion on gun control and mental illness.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, sponsored the background check bill. Her son was gunned down before he was to testify in a murder case.
“I ask you that you join me along with 80 percent of all the people in Colorado who have said that we need to close this gun loophole today,” Fields said.
A House Judiciary committee voted 7-4 with Republican opposition on Tuesday to require background checks on private gun sales and online firearm purchases. The vote came after several hours of testimony from those who say measures are needed to curb gun violence, and people concerned their right to bear arms is being restricted.
Lawmakers were also considering making it a crime to have or sell large-capacity gun magazines. A vote on that proposal was expected Tuesday evening.
Denver Democratic Rep. Beth McCann said expanding background checks to include more firearm purchases or transfers is a way to close what she called a “a pretty obvious and distressing loophole.” She argued criminals who know they can’t pass a background check simply go online or through private seller to buy a weapon.
“So what’s the point of having the background check if we have this enormous loophole through which those who cannot pass a background check can jump?” she said.
But Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Bob Gardner questioned whether lawmakers were restricting law-abiding citizens’ right to bear arms. He also asked the bill sponsors whether they thought their measures would’ve prevented the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and the Aurora theater.
“I must ask, would this bill have prevented either one of those perpetrators, alleged perpetrators, either of them from under the circumstances and facts as we know them, would it have prevented them from getting those weapons?” Gardner asked.
David Carey, a lobbyist for the NRA, said expanding background checks would be an “unjust burden” on law-abiding gun owners, and it wouldn’t prevent future tragedies.
“Criminals don’t abide by the law. That’s what makes them criminals,” Carey said.
Supporters of the bills say they are needed to curb gun violence.
“We’re going to have to take many small steps forward. This can be one of those,” said Greenwood Village police Chief John Jackson, speaking in support of expanded background checks on behalf of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.
County sheriffs opposed expanding background checks.
The bills are part of a package of gun proposals Democrats announced last week.
Democrats have already rejected Republican ideas to reduce gun violence, including a bill to allow school employees to carry concealed weapons. Since Democrats control the Legislature, they’ll have more say on which bills gun measures pass.
By IVAN MORENO, Associated Press
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