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Las Vegas shooting unlikely to affect Colorado gun laws, leaders say

October 9, 2017 Updated: October 10, 2017 at 7:36 am
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Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, left, urges House members to pass her bill on limiting the size of ammunition magazines at the Capitol in Denver on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. House Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs, waits to speak against the bill. Kicking off a long, emotional debate about guns, Colorado lawmakers clashed Friday over setting limits on the size of ammunition magazines, a proposal in a package of Democratic bills responding to mass shootings at a suburban Denver movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school.(AP Photo/Ed Andrieski) Photo by

Nothing about the gun debate in Colorado has changed since 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured in a mass shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1. And probably nothing will change when the next session convenes in Denver in January, say lawmakers and experts.

If anybody would take up the fight, it's state Sen. Rhonda Fields, the Aurora Democrat who is the Legislature's most dogged warrior for crime victims. Her son, Javad Marshall Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, were shot to death by gang members while they sat in a car at an Aurora intersection in 2005. Sir Mario Owens and Robert Ray were convicted and are now on death row.

"Whenever I hear of a mass shooting, it takes me back to Columbine, it reminds me of the Aurora theater shooting, it reminds me of my son's shooting," she said outside of Colorado Senate chambers. "To this point, I think Colorado has done the right thing as it relates to legislation. I'm waiting for the nation to catch up."

Fields said government should ban "bump stock" devices that modify semiautomatic guns into fully automatic. Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock used such a device.

Fields was complimentary of President Trump for showing an openness Tuesday to discuss gun laws when he assured reporters: "We'll be talking about gun laws as time goes by."

"For a president who's been supported by the NRA to say that, I'm curious as to what that discussion might look like, and I think what it should look like is we, as a nation, make it illegal to buy these online kits that you can make a rifle automatic."

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., introduced a bill Wednesday, and Politico cited a few top Senate Republicans willing to at least discuss it.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Denver, is a co-sponsor of the bill. He wants just such a conversation to happen nationally, one that "does not devolve into partisanship and demagoguery."

"Although we cannot prevent all evil acts, we can do our part to make them less likely, beginning with meaningful action from Congress to keep the wrong weapons out of the wrong hands," he said.

Bennet wants a better universal background check system, which has support in the U.S. Senate but not the House, he said.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said bump stocks should be part of the discussion on guns, but he hasn't in the past given ground on his opposition to gun control.

"We've got to find the right solution," he said on Fox31 Denver on Wednesday morning, citing better mental health care and evaluations to prevent mass shootings. "I don't think the right solution is to infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans."

The Colorado Legislature passed tougher gun laws in 2013, months after the Aurora theater shooting that killed 12 and injured at least 70 and the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut that took the lives of 20 first-graders and six faculty members.

Democrats forced through a 15-round limit on ammunition magazines, expanded background checks, and barred those with domestic violence offenses and protective orders against them from possessing guns.

Democrats controlled the House and Senate then, and the gun control issue played a role in their losing their Senate majority in 2014, when gun control was used as an issue in incumbent Gov. John Hickenlooper's re-election. Democrats paid a price in 2013, as well. Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo were recalled over their gun votes, and Sen. Evie Hudak of Arvada resigned as a recall effort against her was taking shape.

David Kopel, the research director and Second Amendment Project director of the Denver-based Independence Institute, a thought leader for Colorado Republicans, looked back at the 2013 effort to predict the future of the gun debate.

"Colorado has already been through the use of an atrocious crime for political advantage, resulting in badly written laws whose main effect is to oppress the law-abiding," he said. "Hopefully the Legislature and governor will not be inclined to repeat the errors of the reckless and irresponsible 2013 session."

Hickenlooper told a town hall meeting in Commerce City on Wednesday night that it's too soon to measure the policy impact of the Las Vegas massacre.

"I think right now the feelings of many are raw ...it's going to take a period of time to get our equilibrium back," the governor said.

House Republican Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, has sponsored and backs legislation to expand gun rights, including allowing concealed weapons on school grounds.

"Letting folks protect themselves is how you respond to that kind of situation," Neville told Colorado Politics about mass shootings.

He said he expects Republicans to continue to push bills to expand Second Amendment rights in Colorado.

"We continue to feel people should have the right to protect themselves in these kinds of situations," Neville said. "We shouldn't leave people defenseless."

Tom Mauser, who has advocated for tougher gun laws since his son, Daniel, was killed at Columbine High School in 1999, saw room for understanding and compromise, however.

"Finding common ground is key," he said on Facebook. "It's there, but political talking points and finger pointing too often get in the way. We're going to try this exercise at my church on the 21st, with the 'two sides' (myself and a gun instructor) trying to see where (and if) we have any common ground, rather than make the usual arguments against the other side. We planned this well before Las Vegas. Not sure how it will turn out, but we have nothing to lose."

Said Ken Toltz, founder and co-chairman of the Boulder-based gun violence prevention group Safe Campus: Lawmakers' "thoughts and prayers" is part of the cycle of gun violence in the U.S.

"This cycle outrages me," he said. "It's been more than 18 years since the horrific Columbine High School shootings were going to 'change everything.' Today in Las Vegas, 58 people are dead. More than 500 were injured. Thousands are traumatized . We know what happens next. Nothing. We wait for the next man with guns."

Toltz on Thursday announced he will run as a Democrat for Colorado's 2nd Congressional District seat being vacated by Jared Polis, who is running for governor.

"The fact that they have a track record of doing nothing means we need to change Congress," Toltz said.

Colorado Ceasefire, which pushes against loosening gun laws and advocates for tougher ones, issued a lengthy statement on the Las Vegas attack.

"Elected officials in Washington and in Denver should be demonstrating that their concerns are with the people and not the gun industry and its promoters," it said. "Colorado Ceasefire will be asking all of Colorado's congressional delegation why battlefield arms should be allowed for civilians and whether they think the public believes that the gun lobby bills currently before Congress will make citizens safer."

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