GOP committee clears proposal to repeal expanded background checks

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Jane Doughtery, whose sister was killed at Sandy Hook, speaks out against a Republican effort to roll back Colorado’s 2013 gun laws.

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DENVER -- Democrats scheduled a spate of Republican gun bills for Monday, which happens to be Groundhog Day, in order to make a point about the GOP's stubborn and seemingly never-ending opposition to Colorado's new gun safety laws, which were approved by the Democrat-controlled legislature two years ago.

At a press conference inside the Capitol's west foyer ahead of the afternoon's hearings, gun control activists handed out groundhogs -- well, stuffed animals -- just to be sure the assembled reporters got the reference.

"Just like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day, we woke up today and it's the same thing all over again," said Jennifer Hope with the group Moms Demand Action, lamenting the GOP's attempt to roll back the 2013 laws for a second straight year. "When will they learn that their agenda is too extreme for Colorado?"

But this year isn't exactly the same in that Republicans now control the state senate; and they were able to use their new majority to move at least one of their bills, the measure seeking to repeal the law expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 3-2 party-line vote.

"The legislation passed by Democrats in 2013 criminalizes law abiding citizens for taking prudent steps to protect their firearms and families," said Sen. Kent Lambert, R-Colorado Springs, the bill's sponsor.

"I'm proud we took common sense action today to repeal measures that significantly infringe on Coloradans Second Amendment rights. Coloradans have been clear for years that they hold the Second Amendment near and dear to their hearts and I hope this legislation continues to get a fair hearing throughout the legislative process."

Like Democrats, Republicans also see the issue of gun laws as a way to galvanize their party's base; and Senate President Bill Cadman views his new majority, on top of 2013's recall elections in which two Democrats lost their seats for supporting the gun control measures and a third was forced to resign, as a mandate to continue the repeal effort.

"Since the Democrats’ unconstitutional restrictions on Second Amendment rights passed in 2013, two Democratic Senators have been recalled and Republicans gained the majority in the Senate," said Cadman in a statement. "On the opening day of this year’s legislative session, I promised Coloradans that their new Republican Senate Majority would hold government accountable for irresponsible policies and today’s vote is another step towards that goal."

But both parties know that, with Democrats still controlling the House and the governor's office, all seven GOP gun bills -- others aim to repeal the ban on high-capacity magazines, roll back the fees for background checks and loosen concealed carry restrictions -- will be killed, either Monday by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee or at a later date when that panel finally gets its hands on the legislation that's starting in the Senate.

"Every time the gun lobby attempts to weaken our existing laws, we will show up," said Jane Dougherty, a Littleton resident who became a gun control advocate after her sister, Mary Sherlach, was murdered in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook School in Newtown, Conn. "We will fight back."

Dave Hoover, a self-described gun owner, police officer and registered Republican, saw his nephew, A.J. Boik, murdered in the July 2012 Aurora theater shooting. Testifying Monday, he excoriated the GOP majority for forcing him to return to the Capitol annually for this debate.

"It's painful. It's like the legislators don't care," Hoover said.  "This is about a special interest group -- Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, NRA -- throwing this out there and feeling like this is getting in the way of their constitutional right to bear arms. It's not about that. It's about us saving lives and keeping guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous.

"But these special interest groups force these lawmakers to introduce the same crap every year."

While the emotional anguish of Hoover and Doughtery is real, Democrats, however ostensibly outraged, are happy to have this debate.

On Monday, Colorado Bureau of Investigations Director Ron Sloan testified that the law expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers is working, pointing to new statistics that show 102 individuals -- many of them subject to restraining orders or with a history of assault -- have been denied guns as a result of the new background checks on private sales.

Those supporting the repeal of that law simply argued that it's "onerous" for gun owners, punishing law-abiding citizens with longer wait times while failing to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals.

Whatever the statistics, the activists on both sides are true believers who aren't likely to be moved to reconsider their views -- no matter how long the debate goes on.

And no end is anywhere in sight.

"We hope for a fair hearing and that we can get the bill out of committee and to the House floor," said Rep. Steve Humphrey, R-Severance, who sponsored the bill to overturn the ban on magazines of more than 15 rounds.

He acknowledged the Democrat-controlled committee hearing the bill wasn't likely to let the bill advance, but promised the fight would go on.

"It's a bad law so we need to come in and oppose it every year until we get it repealed," he said.

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