DENVER - Democrats stood behind universal background checks on gun sales as an important public safety measure on Monday as many advocated repeal of legislation they said infringes on the rights of private citizens.
Senate Bill 94, proposed by Sen. George Rivera, R-Pueblo, would have repealed requirements that for all private and online gun sales and gun transfers the buyer undergo a background check through the Colorado Bureau of Investigation. It also would have repealed a $10 background check fee.
It failed in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 3-2, party-line vote.
Public testimony lasted more than six hours at the Capitol as victims of gun violence testified about the need for background checks on all gun sales to prevent criminals from getting guns, and those who frequently sell and buy guns testified the background check requirement is too onerous. Slightly more people testified against the bill than those talking in favor of repealing the checks.
Universal background checks and fees were two of five gun bills passed by Democrats during the 2013 legislative session. The other bills outlawed new sales of magazines that hold more than 15 bullets, required in-person training for concealed carry permits and empowered judges to take guns from people accused of domestic abuse.
Republicans also want to repeal the ban on high-capacity gun magazines.
None of the efforts likely will succeed as Democrats hold the House, the Senate and the governor's office.
But that didn't seem to deter opponents of background checks who came out in droves Monday to testify.
First up was Matt Solomon, owner of Alpine Arms in Eagle, who testified that his federally licensed gun dealership refuses to do background checks for private gun sales and transfers because it is cost prohibitive.
"I don't want firearms in the wrong hands as much as you guys but I do want to run a compliant business," Solomon said. "After weighing the risks and costs, we decided we cannot support and will not participate in background checks for private gun sales."
Solomon estimated it would cost his business between $50 and $100 to facilitate a background check during a transaction between two individuals. Current law allows firearms dealers to charge only $10 for the service.
Solomon said part of the cost comes from having to maintain the records for five years after a private transaction, a requirement under federal law - and one that opponents of background checks call a "decentralized registry of firearms" because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can access those records.
"These laws have negatively impacted rural Colorado, where it can be tough to find a licensed firearm dealer willing to conduct background checks," Rivera said, noting that dealers aren't required to do the checks.
Ron Sloan, director of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, told lawmakers more than 6,000 background checks have been conducted since July on private sales and of those 104 buyers were denied.
Sloan said it's clear the background check law serves a compelling public interest.
Rivera said background checks for private transactions have criminalized common acts such as lending a rifle to a friend. He said the law has made the jobs of law enforcement more difficult as they try to enforce an unenforceable law.
Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, asked Rivera if he was aware there were a number of exemptions in the law that allowed a person to give a gun to any family member without undergoing a background check. Other exemptions allow people to loan a gun to a friend for up to 72 hours, or to let someone use their gun while at a shooting range or while hunting.
"I borrow guns to go hunting. I do that all the time. Is that appropriate?" Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, asked.
Gun legislation was prompted last year by the shooting in an Aurora movie theater in July 2012 that killed 12 people and injured 70 others and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting a few months later where a shooter killed 20 children and six staff members.
Among those who testified Monday against the repeal were family members of victims who died or were injured in those two shootings.
A father of a student from Arapahoe High School, where a student walked into the school with a shotgun in December and killed himself and a fellow student, testified that the hour he spent trying to contact his son was the most terrifying time in his life.
National Rifle Association lobbyist Daniel Carey told lawmakers the law has "no proven ability to curb violent crimes."
He said a similar law in California has not had any impact on the number of gun deaths.
How They Voted
Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee
Senate Bill 94: Would 6repeal laws passed during 2013 that require background checks on gun sales online or between private parties and charge a fee for all background checks on gun sales.
Yes: Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, and Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch
No: Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, D-Denver, and Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville
Contact Megan Schrader