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Gazette Premium Content Gun debate heats up Monday over Colorado bill to repeal background-check law

By Megan Schrader Updated: February 2, 2014 at 8:48 am

DENVER — Victor Head, a plumber from Pueblo, will testify at the Capitol Monday that the background-check law for all gun sales has made him and his family criminals.

Head will be urging lawmakers, specifically the three Democrats on the Senate State Affairs committee, to repeal the background check law passed in 2013.

"I don't think anyone has any real delusions that it will actually pass and get a full repeal," Head said. "What we'd like to do is at least let it out of committee and hear what our representatives and senators feel about it. See if their minds have changed, if the summer has swayed their opinion."

The committee has three Democrats and two Republicans and is historically known as a kill committee, where bills unfavorable to the majority party go to die.

The summer brought three recall efforts of Democratic senators who had supported in some way the gun legislation. Two of those efforts were successful and the third was halted when Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Arvada, resigned from office.

As the three lawmakers left office they stood behind their gun laws as important steps to protect public safety.

Senate President Morgan Carroll is a Democrat from Aurora who took the leadership post after former Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, was ousted from office.

"The majority of Coloradans, Americans, NRA members and people from all political parties support the use of criminal background checks before acquiring a firearm," Carroll said. "It is strange to me that they would run a bill to make it easier for convicted criminals to get access to prohibited weapons."

Since the law took affect in July the Colorado Bureau of Investigation has conducted background checks on 6,076 gun sales or transfers between private individuals. Gun sales at gun shows or by licensed firearm dealers already required background checks before the new law.

Of those private transfers, 104 were denied for reasons that vary from murder convictions or charges in the customer's background to assaults and restraining orders.

Another 18 gun buyers were initially denied but won the ability to buy the gun on appeal. Other appeals may still be pending.

"These statistics indicate the law is working," Carroll said.

Sen. George Rivera, a Republican from Pueblo who is sponsoring Senate Bill 94, is in office because he replaced Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, who was recalled.

Head played a major roll in orchestrating that recall and putting Rivera in office.

In spite of those recalls and threats from gun rights advocates that guns will be a major issue in the 2014 elections, Democrats are holding strong to five gun bills passed during the 2013 legislative session that they say make Colorado safer.

In addition to universal background checks, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed bills into law that prohibit new sales of high-capacity magazines that hold more than 15 bullets, charge the public a $5 fee for background checks done on gun sales, require in-person training for concealed carry licenses and empower judges to take guns from those accused of domestic violence.

When those bills were heard in committee last year, more people than there was time for lined up in the Capitol to testify on each one. At the climax of the gun rights debate an airplane circled the Gold Dome dragging a banner that asked Hickenlooper not to take away guns. Cars drove the blocks around the legislature honking for hours.

Rivera said he doesn't know what private citizens will do this year.

"We're going to have paragliders come in," Rivera joked. "I will say this, whatever they do, you can bet, I'll bet my life on it, it'll be peaceful."

The freshmen lawmaker said there is still a fire "in the people's souls" when it comes to not only the Second Amendment infringements that occurred last session, but also a feeling that Democrats refused to listen.

Carroll has pledged repeatedly that everyone who shows up to testify will be heard in committee meetings on all issues this year and is working to find a way to allow people from remote areas testify electronically.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners have posted several notes on Facebook reminding their followers that the first of the gun repeal bills will be heard Monday.

And that won't be the only day that the Capitol will likely have gun advocates in the halls.

Sen. Bernie Herpin, D-Colorado Springs, is co-sponsoring a bill that would repeal the high-capacity magazine ban, but a date for that hearing has not been set yet.

A number of gun right's advocates testified on Friday in support of a measure that would have eliminated the need for concealed carry permits in Colorado, instead allowing any law-abiding citizen to carry a concealed firearm.

Current law requires a person to undergo firearm training and get a background check before they are permitted to carry concealed weapons. In Colorado anyone can openly carry a gun as long as a previous conviction or parole status doesn't prohibit them from doing so.

The House Judiciary Committee has not yet voted on that bill.

Head plans on testifying in favor of Rivera's repeal bill, telling committee members that when he leaves his gun with his girlfriend while he's out of town he is violating the law. The gun he loaned to his mother without a background check makes them both criminals.

The law does allow a gun to be loaned to a family member for 72 hours without a background check.

Head went even further and said that since the law has been enacted, he's sold a gun to a stranger without a background check.

"I'll admit it," he said. "It's no different then selling a car to me. I don't know what he's going to do. He might have gone and drove down the 16th Street Mall and killed a bunch of people. That's not my problem. I have no idea what he's going to do with that car. I see it the same way as a gun. It's a chunk of metal, if he's going to do something bad with it, that's on him, not on me."

Carroll said she'd never sell a gun to someone without a background check.

"I would feel personally and morally responsible if the person were to use the gun to kill or injure someone," Carroll said. "I would not want to sell or transfer to a dangerous, convicted felon."

Contact Megan Schrader

719-286-0644

Twitter: @CapitolSchrader

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