DENVER — Last week in his State of the State address, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, known for being cautious and uncontroversial, announced his support for a general discussion on gun control and mental health — and for one specific measure, a proposal to mandate universal background checks on all gun purchases.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who felt the effects of gun violence personally in 2005 when her son was murdered, is sponsoring legislation to close the loophole that currently allows individuals buying guns on the private market to avoid a state background check.
“If you’re looking for a gun and you’re a convicted felon, the best way to get one is to go on the internet, go on Craigs List,” Fields told FOX31 Denver Wednesday just hours after President Obama outlined an ambitious plan to curb gun violence.
“If you’re a registered sex offender, you can just go ask your neighbor if he wants to sell you his gun.”
Fields’ proposal, one of several gun control and public safety measures being discussed this legislation session, is likely to pass the Democrat-controlled legislature and could even garner bipartisan support.
But, to Senate President John Morse, it won’t do much without other, stronger gun control measures.
“I think having a background check for everyone who’s trying to get a gun is a good idea,” Morse told FOX31 Denver. “But it wouldn’t have stopped any of the mass shootings we’ve talked about.
“We need to continue to look for ways to really solve the problem all the way and not just partially.”
Like Fields, Morse’s personal experiences inform his political stance on this issue.
A former paramedic and police officer in Colorado Springs, the new Senate president might be the most strident gun control proponent of all 100 lawmakers under the dome.
“I’ve probably been to several hundred shootings either as a paramedic or a police officer, so I know the damage these guns do and I feel very strongly that we really need to eliminate gun violence to the best of our ability,” Morse said.
In an interview Wednesday, Morse made it clear that he supports an all-out ban on assault weapons and the high-capacity magazines used in recent mass shootings in Aurora and Netwown, Conn.
“They’re not defensive weapons, which is what the Second Amendment, in my view, is about. They’re offensive weapons. They’re attack weapons,” Morse said. “I would love to see us ban assault weapons, but in a way that actually bans assault weapons.”
In Morse’s view, the 1994 assault weapons ban failed to curb gun violence because of its many loopholes allowing numerous slightly modified assault weapons to remain legal; additionally, an effective ban would also address the proliferation of these weapons that’s already taken place.
“At this point, there’s about 5.5 million of them on our streets. How do we do this in a way that gets those guns off our streets? Because if we don’t get them off the streets, they’ll be on our streets for the next 90 years until those guns literally fall apart,” Morse said.
“And I don’t know if we can get them off the streets. This is really hard and there may not be a solution.”
Republicans offer different ideas
Republicans, meanwhile, are also offering their own ideas as part of this debate, which mostly involve making guns more accessible in places where they’re currently forbidden.
Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, introduced the first gun measure of the session last week that would enable school districts to authorize teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons on campus.
“The emails I’ve been getting are amazing from veterans who are teachers or administrators now saying, ‘Thank you, I’d love this opportunity to protect my students rather than just standing in front of them as a shield’,” Renfroe told FOX31 Denver Wednesday.
Renfroe, like many gun owners, believes that restricting the types of guns law-abiding citizens can buy will just leave criminals with the upper-hand.
“A criminal is still going to have those illegal weapons,” he said. “When I protect my home and my family, I want to be able to protect them with the best technology and the best weaponry, to make sure I have equal or superior weaponry to what a criminal who enters my home has.”
Also Wednesday, Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, introduced his own bill that would require Colorado businesses employing 50 or more people to provide an armed guard at their workplace.
But with Democrats controlling the state senate, those bills aren’t going anywhere.
“In my view, the answer isn’t adding more guns,” Morse said. “That’s just going to add more shootings and I’m for fewer shootings.
“But Republicans bringing these bills are starting a conversation and I appreciate them engaging on this issue. I just don’t think those ideas are going to be helpful.”