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Magazine ban heads to gov.; Universal background checks bill held up

DENVER — After yet another long debate on the House floor, legislation to ban high-capacity magazines of 15 rounds or more is on its way to Gov. John Hickenlooper’s desk.

House Bill 1224, the most controversial of the five remaining Democratic gun control measures, was given final approval by the House on a vote of 34-30 after lawmakers there voted to concur with changes made by the Senate.”There will be another mass shooting,” said Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver. “This will give those who are in that situation a fighting chance.”

The Senate, which debated the proposals for 14 hours Friday, officially passed the package of gun control measures on mostly party-line votes Monday.

Three Democrats, Reps. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, Steve Lebsock of Thornton and Ed Vigil of San Luis, all voted against the bill, as they did when passed the full House last month.

But Republicans succeeded in holding up the second key piece of the Democratic gun control package, a proposal to impose background checks on all gun purchases and transfers.

Ferrandino agreed not to adopt Senate amendments to that measure, House Bill 1229, and to send it to a conference commitee as the GOP suggested to possibly iron out some issues.

That committee will meet Thursday.

The Senate amended H.B. 1229 to add an exemption to allow guns to be transfered or loaned to family members for 72 hours without a background check.

“The Senate amendments make a bad bill better, but it’s still a bad bill,” said Minority Leader Mark Waller, R-Colorado Springs.

The Senate also amended H.B. 1224 so that the language is clearer and cannot be interpreted as a ban on shotguns.

“This bill does not improve public safety, which it’s supposed to do,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton. “This is a feel-good measure.”

Republicans argued that a conference committee could clarify a provision of the bill regarding active and retired military members and whether they could purchase high-capacity magazines, which would remain legal for the military, while on leave.

Democrats voted down a motion to send H.B. 1224 to a conference committee on a vote of 36-29, with only Rep. Ed Vigil, D-San Luis, joining Republicans in favor of the move.

Following that vote, the full House voted unanimously to approve Senate amendments to the bill; and then Republicans lined up to argue against it one final time.

“It doesn’t matter if I need a 20-round magazine. It is my right to own one,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. “And you don’t have any right to take it away from me.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Rhonda Fields, waited until they were finished to outline her central argument for the bill.

“A smaller magazine will mean more time for someone to intervene and stop someone using a high-capacity magazine to kill as many people as possible,” said Fields, who represents the Aurora district that’s home to the Century 16 theater where 70 people were shot last July, 12 of them fatally.

“We have seen in Aurora a gunman who held a magazine that held 100 bullets go into a theater and, in 90 seconds, shoot 70 people. This bill is about saving lives; it’s not about taking away anyone’s Second Amendment rights.”

Hickenlooper, a moderate Democrat, has indicated he plans to sign both bills into law, despite the loud outcry from gun owners and from Magpul, an Erie manufacturer of high-capacity magazines threatening to leave Colorado should the bill pass.

Back on Feb. 18, three Democrats voted against the magazine ban: Rep. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton and Rep. Ed Vigil of San Luis. Vigil also voted against the background checks bill.

During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Mike McLachlan, R-Durango, amended H.B. 1224, which had initially proposed banning magazines of 10 rounds or more, to the 15-round limit.

The freshman lawmaker’s vote in favor of the measure has made him the subject of a recall effort; despite that, he’s expected to vote for the bill again on Wednesday.

Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, the most ardent of many outspoken opponents to the Democratic gun package, was pushing McLachlan as late as Wednesday morning to vote against magazine ban.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing and vote Colorado values over New York City,” Brophy says he told McLachlan.

A third bill from the House that was not amended in the Senate, House Bill 1228, which imposes a small fee to cover the cost of CBI gun background checks, is already on Hickenlooper’s desk.

Two Senate bills, neither as controversial as the two back on the House floor Wednesday, could get their first hearings in the House before week’s end, although they’ve yet to be assigned to committees.