DENVER — Gov. John Hickenlooper set the stage for a gun control debate Tuesday with a nod to Colorado’s pioneering spirit and gun ownership — and a reference to the two horrific massacres blotching state history.
“Because of the horrific nature of those shootings, it’s put Colorado at the front of this debate and makes all of us think a little more deeply about some of the attitudes and opinions we’ve had our entire lives,” Hickenlooper said.
The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab sponsored the forum at the Denver Performing Arts Complex, as six prominent voices in the gun-control debate started with a fight over the Second Amendment and ended with agreement on early childhood education. Hundreds filled the sold-out banquet hall to listen to the hour-long debate, with applause coming for both sides.
Colorado Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, defended two bills that passed out of the House on Monday trying to curb gun violence in Colorado, while Congressman Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, framed the bills as a useless infringement on constitutional rights.
Among the bills is a ban on magazines that contain more than 15 bullets, and a universal background check that would apply to the sale of firearms between individuals.
“I do think all of the amendments of the Constitution will be rebalanced on a regular basis because the world moves forward,” Morse said. “We have the Supreme Court case law to rely upon.”
Lamborn said the state is veering into questionable territory.
“When it says that we shall not infringe on the right to keep and bear arms, and you find out that if a certain law passes a firearm you own one day is illegal the next day or features on that firearm is illegal the first of the month coming up, to me that does infringe on the right to keep that weapon,” Lamborn said.
Hickenlooper interrupted to ask if the existing ban on machine guns is an infringement on constitutional rights.
“I don’t know if they’ve ever been legal in the first place,” Lamborn responded.
David Kopel, a University of Denver law professor with the Independence Institute, noted the extreme partisanship of the laws being proposed. Democrats hold the House and Senate, and Hickenlooper is a Democrat who supports many of the proposed measures.
“The whole point of the Constitution is some things are off limits to majorities,” Kopel said. “This is how one side of the debate frames things exclusively based on misuse. Over half the homicides in this country are perpetrated by handguns.”
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who sponsored the ban on high-capacity magazines, said she is aiming to save lives in the massacres that are happening across the nation such as the one at a theater in her district.
The panelists agreed on several issues — that there is a need for better mental health programs in the U.S. and better funding for the types of crime prevention that catch at-risk youth, such as early childhood education.
“I know you didn’t come here to watch John Morse and David Kopel agree,” Morse joked, bringing up a school finance bill that is on the verge of being introduced. “We will be working on trying to do it justice. … We’ve got lots of issues to fix.”
Contact Megan Schrader: 719-286-0644, Twitter @CapitolSchrader