DENVER — David A. Keene, the president of the National Rifle Association, spent 30 minutes meeting with Senate President John Morse, who is proposing to make the manufacturers, sellers and users of assault weapons liable for any crimes committed with those guns.
And not once during that meeting, according to both Keene and Morse, did that proposal ever come up.
“I wanted to listen,” Morse told reporters afterward.
Following the meeting, Keene told reporters that he considers that proposal to be “foolish”, not to mention in conflict with an existing federal law that shields gun manufacturers and retailers from liability.
“You cannot sue them because someone takes their perfectly legal product and misuses it,” Keene said. “Going back on [federal law] is a feel-good measure that probably isn’t going to do any good and is going to run into problems with the federal preemption.”
Keene told Morse and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino that he wants to find common ground and that he’s open to measures that focus on mental health, domestic violence and improving the current system of background checks.
“We’re willing to talk and willing to be a constructive part of any conversation that’s designed to protect our children,” Keene said.
Keene also praised Gov. John Hickenlooper prior to a meeting in the governor’s office that lasted just over 30 minutes.
“He’s serious, he’s interested in policy and from what I know about him, he’s not a governor who runs off for political reasons and pops off and tries to exploit tragedies or anything else,” Keene said.
Following the meeting, Hickenlooper did not speak with reporters but issued a statement.
“We appreciate David Keene’s willingness to come out to see firsthand what we’re considering and talking about in Colorado,” Hickenlooper said. “While we might not agree on a number of things, there will certainly be places we can find common ground.”
Just as Keene was meeting in Hickenlooper’s office, four of the eight Democratic gun control bills first outlined Tuesday were officially introduced in the House, including a proposal to mandate background checks on all gun purchases, including private sales, and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
Both bills will be carried by Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.
On Tuesday, Hickenlooper responded to the new package of Democratic proposals by saying that he’s also open to the ides of a ban on high-capacity magazines, another pieces of legislation from Fields.
Hickenlooper, however, and other lawmakers have already begun distancing themselves from Morse’s proposal, which gun advocates equate to an effective ban on assault weapons.
Morse said he’s still working on the bill and hoping to craft it in a way that earns support from the NRA, but he’s not worried about the powerful lobbying arm of the group exerting an outsize influence on the legislative process in a building where Democrats control both chambers.
“I don’t know at the end of the day if they’re going to support any of [the eight Democratic bills], but I know the people of Colorado support all of it,” Morse said. “We’re absolutely interested in their ideas, but they didn’t have any today that they offered us.”
Colorado, given its history with mass shootings from Columbine to Aurora and its political significance as a moderate, western state, is a critical test case for the national debate over gun control.
What happens inside the state Capitol, could impact what happens in Washington where Congress is also poised to debate similar gun control proposals on a federal level.