Colorado Democrats want liability increase for assault weapon sellers, owners

DENVER — After several weeks of deliberations, Colorado Democrats rolled out a package of proposals to reduce gun violence that includes a plan to make gun makers, sellers and owners legally liable for any crime that involving a specific firearm.

While Republicans and gun rights advocates blasted the plan as an effective ban on assault weapons, and the overall package of eight bills as “extreme”, Democrats called their approach, which also includes universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and expanded mental health services, “a measured approach.”

“As a civilized society, we cannot stand back and wait for another Columbine or another Aurora,” said Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, during a press conference Tuesday morning in the Capitol’s west foyer.

“This legislation will not bring all gun violence to a screeching halt, but it will reduce gun violence. It will mean fewer devastated families.”

Flanked by family members of victims in mass shootings from Columbine, Aurora and Newtown, Democratic lawmakers believe they have public opinion and a lot of emotion on their side, not to mention legislative majorities in both the state House and Senate.

“As Americans, we must do better,” said Jane Dougherty of Littleon, whose sister, Mary Sherlach, was among the six educators killed in the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.

“She lost her life running toward a gunman armed with an assault weapon, an AR-15,” Doherty said. “Assault weapons are weapons of war. They belong on the battlefields. They have no place in a home.”

Morse liability measure a heavy lift

But even with all that emotion, getting the Assault Weapons Liability Act, devised by Senate President John Morse and still yet to be finalized, will be a heavy lift.

Morse, a former paramedic and police office, has made it a point to push for stricter measures beyond universal background checks, which Gov. John Hickenlooper expressed support for earlier this year.

“Some weapons are designed with enough power to kill many people quickly. And I believe that with great power comes great responsibility,” said Morse, outlining the proposal that would treat any gun aside from handguns, bolt action rifles and shotguns as assault weapons.

“The bill will hold gun manufacturers, sellers, owners and possessors 100 percent liable for the damage that’s done by these military-style assault weapons,” Morse explained. “The effect is that everyone in the chain will be responsible for the actions of that gun.”

Currently, federal law shields gun manufacturers and retailers from liability.

Republicans respond

Some Republicans were quick to fire back.

“It’s a functional ban on so-called semiautomatic weapons,” said Dudley Brown, director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.

“It’s beyond the pale,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who called the package of eight bills “the most extreme anti-gun measures being offered anywhere in the country.”

Brophy said making gun manufacturers liable for gun violence is the same as making Coors liable for anyone who gets a DUI under the influence of Coors beer.

“Retailers will be afraid to sell these weapons because they won’t be able to purchase an insurance policy to cover their strict liability — that’s the highest standard,” Brophy said. “So it effectively bans the sale of all semiautomatic rifles in the state of Colorado.”

Fields to sponsor universal background checks, ban on magazines

Other measures proposed by House Democrats include a bill to require universal background checks and a ban on high capacity magazines, both proposals to be sponsored by Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, whose son was a victim of gun violence in 2005.

“I could not protect my son but I can do something to help others here in this state to avoid a life sentence of grief after losing a loved one to senseless gun violence,” Fields said. “Background checks are the only systematic way to stop felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill from buying firearms.”

Hickenlooper yet to support entire package

Hickenlooper issued a statement Tuesday afternoon expressing support for the universal background checks measure, but stopping short of endorsing the other proposals.

“The governor supports universal background checks and is open to a discussion about magazine limits and other ideas designed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people,” said spokesman Eric Brown.

“We intend to carefully study the liability legislation proposed by Sen. Morse and appreciate his effort to put a creative idea on the table. Our office will continue to work with the General Assembly to balance Second Amendment rights with calls for tighter gun laws, while also making sure we strengthen the state‚Äôs mental health services and support system.”

Other measures will require in-person training for concealed carry permits, a requirement for individuals to pay for their own background checks and the prohibiting of concealed carry on most college campuses, stadiums and arenas.

Gun lobby to go after lawmakers hard

“None of these measures will actually make the people of Colorado any more safe,” Brophy said, bristling that Democrats have already killed two Republican measures aimed at allowing the proliferation of concealed weapons across the state, in schools and at private businesses.

Brown, who helped elect five Republican members of the House and is a powerful behind the scenes player in GOP politics, promised to double down on an all-out public relations campaigned in hopes of pressuring lawmakers to cave on supporting these various measures.

“We don’t really care what happens in this building, how many Gucci-loafered lobbyists come up and talk to politicians,” Brown said. “We’re going to go into lawmakers’ districts and tell gun owners this is what lawmakers are doing to your Second Amendment rights.”

Refresh this page Tuesday afternoon for more updates from political reporter Eli Stokols