DENVER — Thirteen hours into a marathon debate on seven Democratic gun control measures, Colorado lawmakers took swift action on the three most controversial bills, with the bill sponsors killing two of them and passing a controversial ban on high-capacity magazines after nearly five hours of debate on that measure.
In all, five of the seven measures passed. A final, recorded vote is set for Monday.
Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, brought the day to a quick close by killing his own bill, Senate Bill 196, aimed at making assault weapons manufacturers and retailers liable for related crimes.
Moments earlier, Sen. Rollie Heath, D-Boulder, killed his own legislation aimed at banning concealed weapons on college campuses, a move that was rumored all day but still a matter of much speculation until after 10 p.m.
“This bill is intended to prevent death,” said Heath. “The fact that it has been massaged to say it allows rape on college campuses is reprehensible.”
Ultimately, Democrats decided a floor debate on the campus ban wasn’t worth the political cost of allowing Republican lawmakers to attack them for rendering college women defenseless against attackers, as they’ve done since Monday, when Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, challenged a rape victim who testified in a committee hearing against the bill.
And, it was clear to Morse that he lacked the votes to pass his own bill; thus, the late decision Friday to table both controversial measures, for which Senate Republicans had saved a ton of political ammunition.
Despite losing two bills, the key pieces of the Democratic gun control package survived in tact; Republicans left the Capitol Friday night celebrating the defeat of two measures and newly invigorated about their chances in 2014.
“Just as everyone is writing the Republican Party’s obituary, Colorado Democrats have committed political suicide tonight,” said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.
Magazine ban lasts five hours
Both sides planted an emotional flag on House Bill 1224, the ban on magazines of 15 rounds or more, and debated it for roughly five hours.
Confident they had the votes to pass it, Democrats were forced to let Republicans argue against the bill for as long as they wanted — and resisted the impulse to return rhetorical fire.
Lawmakers began debate on House Bill 1224 around 4:30, after four other less controversial proposals were given initial approval.
When the day began, Democrats knew they had the 18 votes – but no more — needed to pass the measure. As that reality became clear to Senate Republicans, frustration mounted, with GOP lawmakers charging that Colorado Democrats were taking their orders from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the founder of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and the White House.
The Democratic case, made swiftly by the sponsor, was simple.
“High-capacity magazines are designed to kill a large number of people in a short amount of time,” said Sen. Mary Hodge, D-Brighton, the bill’s sponsor.
Hodge rattled off a list of places that have seen mass shootings in which the gunman used high-capacity magazines: Newtown, Oak Creek, Tucson, Aurora, Fort Hood and Blacksburg, Virg.
She also addressed Magpul Industires, the Erie-based manufacturer of high-capacity magazines threatening to leave the state should the ban be law.
“It’s their choice to leave,” Hodge said, noting that the legislation was amended last month in the House so that the company can continue to manufacture high-capacity magazines here for sale in other states.
“And it’s our choice as lawmakers to pass this bill to make our community more safe.”
Hodge specifically mentioned a FOX31 Denver report that Magpul had sought state tax incentives last year; Brophy said that the story was planted by the governor’s office that is being controlled by Bloomberg’s group.
Two Democrats voted against the bill, but three Democratic no votes were needed to prevent the bill from reaching the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper, who supports the bill and is promising to sign it.
One of those Democrats who opposes the bill, Sen. Lois Tochtrop of Thornton, was set to offer an amendment that would have raised the limit to magazines of 30 rounds or more.
That temporary threat to the bill’s very survival, which spooked Senate Democrats for a moment, dissipated after Tochtrop, realizing she didn’t have the votes to pass the amendment, decided not to offer it.
Republicans, who came ready to spend hours arguing against all seven Democratic gun bills, brought visual aids to the floor to illustrate their case against the magazine ban, showing how 10-round magazines can be adapted to hold additional rounds and a map of all the local companies dependent on Magpul’s business.
“We’re choosing to send these jobs out of Colorado,” said Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs.
Many GOP lawmakers read letters from constituents and from Magpul employees and its suppliers.
“These letters are probably their business epitaph,” said Senate Majority Leader Bill Cadman, R-Colorado Springs.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, demonstrated how even a 10-round magazine could be banned because it’s “readily adaptible”, meaning that additional magazines can be attached to it, increasing the capacity beyond the bill’s 15-round limit.
Cadman also noted that the very Magpul magazines viewed so negatively by Democrats because they’ve been used by gunmen with mental illnesses were also used by some of the country’s recent heroes, the men of Seal Team Six, one of whom was using Magpul magazines during the 2011 raid on Osama bin Laden’s home in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
“These are products mostly used by law-abiding citizens, like me,” Cadman said. “And by some of our greatest heroes.”
Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, offered an amendment that would have exempted members of the military, veterans and their families from the ban, but it was voted down along party lines.
Hodge, in asking her caucus to oppose the amendment, drew the ire of some Republicans and observers seated in the gallery for noting that some veterans have mental health issues.
Above all, Republicans said — in seemingly a hundred different ways — that the ban on magazines is a major infringement of the Second Amendment.
“I would much rather take my chances dying in a country that’s free than living in a country that’s not,” said Cadman near the end of the debate.
First four Democratic gun control bills approved
By 4:30 p.m., the first four of seven Democratic gun control measures were all given initial approval by the Colorado state senate, including the centerpiece of the package, a bill to require universal background checks on all gun sales.
That proposal, House Bill 1229, got initial approval from the Senate on a voice vote around 3:30 p.m., after three hours of debate on the bill.
Following the approval of House Bill 1228, which imposes a fee on CBI background checks, the Senate began debating perhaps the most controversial bill, House Bill 1224, a proposed ban on high-capacity magazines, around 4:30 p.m.
“The eyes of the world are on Colorado today, your constituents are watching what you do here and close to two-thirds of them are opposed to what you are doing,” Brophy warned Democrats just before the vote.
Polls show that universal background checks are supported by more than 80 percent of Coloradans, but Senate Republicans argue that this legislation is too broad and will criminalize law-abiding citizens who let their friends and relatives borrow their firearms.
“Background checks work to reduce violence,” said Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, the bill’s sponsor. “In every state where they’ve been put into effect, the number of gun crimes and violent incidents have gone down.
“As a member of the Aurora community that has been repeatedly impacted by senseless gun violence, I can tell you it is time to modernize Colorado’s gun laws so that no one can buy a gun without a background check.”
Republicans argue that the legislation is an infringement of the Second Amendment that will make law-abiding citizens less safe and likely cost Colorado jobs.
“There is no government that has the right to take away our inalienable rights,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, who read a transcript of Monday’s testimony by Krista Ceresa, whose mother was murdered by Gary Davis, the last person put to death by the state of Colorado.
“By diluting these rights, my rights, you will only make people like myself an easy target,” Ceresa said, according to Harvey.
Brophy argued that the background check bill won’t reduce crime but will burden law-abiding gun owners and, potentially, criminalize them too for allowing family members and friends to borrow or temporarily use their firearms.
“This bill is dangerous,” said Brophy.
Cadman spoke about Outdoor Channel’s threat to stop film production in Colorado and the potential job losses that could result.
First bill voted on is key to Democrat’s political strategy, messaging
With people watching from around the state and the country, Republicans promised a long filibuster, spending more than two hours debating the first of seven Democratic bills scheduled to be debated and voted on by the Senate Friday.
“There are 15 people here who believe that this is no less than a fight for the survival of our country,” said Brophy.
Democrats scheduled the seven bills so that the most controversial proposals are debated last.
The first bill debated, S.B.197, is key to the Democrats’ political strategy.
Senate Bill 197, which restricts access to firearms for those facing protection orders or convicted of domestic violence, cleared the Senate on an initial voice vote; a final recorded vote will come next week.
Just as Republicans believe Democrats will suffer political consequences by supporting many of these proposals, Democrats believe that forcing Republicans to vote against S.B. 197 will provide additional political ammunition for them heading into 2014′s elections.
“It sounds good on the surface but it will imperil the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud. “It sounds so good, but it doesn’t work.”
After nearly two hours of debate, Cadman went to the well, told an emotional story about his abusive father and asked Democrats to table the bill until next week so both sides can work out a compromise.
“At our core, we would like to support this,” said Sen. Mark Scheffel, R-Parker.
Democratic Majority Leader Morgan Carroll urged her side to oppose the motion, noting that lawmakers have had plenty of time to work on the legislation up to this point.
“I think it’s terribly partisan not to extend us that courtesy,” said Brophy.
The motion to lay the bill over failed on a straight party-line vote, prompting murmurs of disgust from the Republican side of the room.
“Game on,” one of them said.
Concealed carry permit loophole bill draws bipartisan support
The second bill debated, which closes the loophole that currently allows people to get concealed carry permits simply by going online, was approved quickly, after just 15 minutes of debate — and with bipartisan support.
Lundberg announced he’d support the bill after his amendment, which will allow some of the concealed carry training to be online, was approved.
Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and Sen. Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, also pledged their support for the bill.
The sponsor, Tochtrop, announced that she doesn’t view her bill, S.B. 195, as part of the Democratic gun control package.
Tochtrop actually opposes three of the more controversial proposals, including the ban on high-capacity magazines and the assault weapons liability measure.