DENVER -- The House Appropriations Committee's consideration and passage of three gun control bills, which should have been a short, procedural matter Thursday, turned into a contentious, drawn-out hearing, foreshadowing what is certain to be a charged and lengthy floor debate on the legislation Friday.
"We're prepared to let everyone say as much as they want to say," Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, told reporters Thursday morning. "So we'll be there as long as that takes, even if it's into Friday night or Saturday morning."
The Speaker's press conference came less than an hour after Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, which normally only focuses on the fiscal impact of legislation, took more than two hours to drag out the vote on three Democratic gun measures by asking lengthy questions.
Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, who Democrats thought was trying to filibuster the hearing by asking questions, said that the process reminded him of Soviet bloc and took his complaints to the House floor, where he spoke for five minutes about the right of the minority party to be heard.
"I have thousands of constituents who have asked me to represent them on these issues, and I take that responsibility seriously," Gardner said on the floor. "To curtail that debate is to diminish the process and to diminish lawmakers like me who refuse to be silenced."
Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, threatened to gavel Gardner out of order as he asked lengthy questions, and she limited debate after two hours to force votes on the three proposals, all of which will be debated on the House floor on Friday.
House Bill 1229 would require background checks for all gun transactions; House Bill 1226 would ban those with concealed carry permit from carrying their weapons on college campuses; and House Bill 1228 would charge gun buyers to cover the cost of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's background checks.
A fourth measure, House Bill 1224, a ban on high-capacity magazines, will be heard by the Appropriations Committee Friday morning and debated on the floor later in the day.
With Democrats holding a 37-28 majority in the House, all four measures are certain to pass second reading on Friday and third reading and final passage on Monday.
"The majority party is trying to rush all of these bills through while they have an opportunity," Gardner told FOX31. "They feel like, while the public emotions are running high for additional gun regulation, that before the public begins to consider the implications of all that, they can get this done."
Ferrandino and Majority Leader Dickie Lee Hullinghorst told reporters that they're not worried about losing public support for the gun control package, or about any political consequences that may result come 2014.
"There are not many issues in the high 70s and low 80s of public support, and universal background checks have that kind of support," Ferrandino said. "So I would ask Republicans, why aren't they on the side of public support. Because the public is with us on this."