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Colorado House Democrats Advance Gun Control Bills

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Lawmakers during the gun control hearing on Tuesday (credit: CBS)

Lawmakers during the gun control hearing on Tuesday (credit: CBS)

DENVER (AP) – Colorado Democrats gave initial approval to expanding background checks on firearm purchases Tuesday, as well as setting new ammunition limits, starting an intense debate over stricter gun laws that drew hundreds to the state Capitol.

The bills are the latest responses to the mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school, tragedies that have heightened the national discussion on gun control and mental illness.

A House committee voted Tuesday 7-4 on two bills, one to require background checks on private gun sales and online firearm purchases, and another a limit on high-capacity magazines. Republicans opposed the measures.

The votes came after more than eight hours of testimony from those who say the measures are needed to curb gun violence, and people concerned that their right to bear arms will be restricted.

It’s the beginning of a long fight on a package of Democratic bills.

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.

Speaking against the ammunition limits, the CEO of Magpul, a Colorado-based magazine manufacturer, said he feared the proposal would hurt his businesses and restrict future expansions and warned the state could lose millions in tax revenues.

Doug Smith, the CEO, said an ammunition limit “will not improve public safety, will not reduce crime, and would endanger the lives of Colorado residents by unduly restricting their ability to defend themselves.”

“Arguments to the contrary are based purely on emotion and not facts,” he added.

Democrats said their intent is not to hurt businesses like Smith’s, and said they would work to make that clear in the bill.

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 and the ammunition limits.

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

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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