House passes universal background checks, ammo limit, campus concealed carry ban

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DENVER -- After another emotional debate Monday, the Colorado House of Representatives gave final passage to a slate of Democratic gun restriction bills that now head to the state Senate.

"This is common-sense legislation that will take guns out of the hands of felons and will increase public safety," said Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver.

House Bill 1224, which will ban high-capacity magazines of 15 rounds or more, passed the House on a 34-31 final vote, with three Democrats joining the Republican minority in opposition.

Those Democrats were Rep. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton, and Rep. Ed Vigil of San Luis.

"Guns are a part of our heritage in the west and I can't turn my back on that," Vigil said, as several Republicans and a few Democrats stood in the chamber in an unusual show of deference.

Vigil was the only House Democrat who voted against all four bills.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who sponsored the measure, also brought Democrats to their feet as she offered a closing argument in favor of her bill.

"This bill is not about a hunch," Fields said, answering Minority Leader Mark Waller's criticism that no data supports the idea that banning high-capacity magazines will prevent mass shootings.

"This is not about feeling good. This is about saving lives."

Ferrandino echoed Fields and said that the magazine ban is part of a comprehensive legislative approach to reducing gun violence that also includes improving mental health services in the state.

Republicans argued against the bill at length, challenging the "inconsistency" of allowing a Boulder manufacturer to continue to make high-capacity magazines that would be illegal in the state and arguing that the ban will impact law-abiding gun owners disproportionately.

"Criminals don't follow the law," said Rep. Jared Wright, R-Fruita. "The criminals in Colorado are laughing right now."

"There is no correlation between the size of a magazine and the amount of gun violence in a state," said Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling.

Republicans also argued on behalf of Boulder's Magpul Industries, a magazine manufacturer that's threatening to leave Colorado should the legislation become law.

On Monday, Magpul, unsatisfied that the bill's been amended to ensure that they can continue to manufacture high-capacity magazines here for sale in other states, put that threat in black and white with a full-page ad in the Denver Post.

The House also passed Fields's second measure, House Bill 1229, which will require universal background checks on all gun purchases, including private sales.

It passed 36-29, with Vigil the only Democrat voting with Republicans against the bill.

"Convicted felons know if they need a gun, just go on the Internet," Fields said.

Fields pointed to public polling showing that nearly 80 percent of Coloradans support universal background checks.

Despite such polling, Republicans were steadfast in their opposition to the proposal, arguing that it impedes citizens' Second Amendment rights.

"The supposition of this bill is you are guilty until you are proven innocent, and that's not what we do in this country," said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

The narrowest margin was on House Bill 1228, which will force gun buyers to pay a small fee to cover the cost of their background checks; it passed 33-32 with four Democrats opposed.

"I just couldn't see levying a fee for a Constitutional right," said Rep. Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat Springs, who waited until the very end when the electronic board displaying the votes of members finally showed 33 votes for the bill, just enough to ensure passage.

Asked if she was prepared to cast a decisive no vote against a Democratic bill, Mitsch Bush told FOX31 Denver "I'm just glad it didn't come to that."

Other Democrats who voted against the bill included Rep. Vigil, Rep. Leroy Garcia of Pueblo and Rep. Dave Young of Greeley.

The fourth measure debated, House Bill 1226, which bans concealed weapons on public college campuses, passed the House around 2 p.m. on a 34-31 vote.

The three Democrats opposed to it were Reps. Garcia, Lebsock and Vigil.

Following the vote, conservative bloggers seized on a comment from Rep. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton, who had argued that women on college campuses didn't need guns to be safe.

"It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, it’s why we have the whistles," Salazar said. "Because you just don’t know who you’re gonna be shooting at. And you don’t know if you feel like you’re gonna be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you pop … pop around at somebody."

The Senate still needs to consider each proposal.

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