A Denver Democrat wants potential gun buyers to pay for their own criminal background checks, and pump the savings into mental-health treatment.
But state Rep. Lois Court said Monday she hasn’t done any research yet to see whether her proposal is feasible. She said she needs to talk with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation – the state agency charged with checking the backgrounds of customers to see if they are eligible to purchase firearms – before she decides whether to introduce a bill next session.
“The argument from a lot of people, including law-abiding gun purchasers, is the issue is, mental health,” Court said. “So let’s ask them to be part of the solution.”
The number of Coloradans purchasing firearms in recent weeks has increased so dramatically that the time to process an application has jumped from an average of 23 minutes to seven days. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation has a backlog of 11,000 applications.
The Colorado Department of Public Safety, the umbrella agency over the CBI, plans to ask lawmakers for a $500,000 supplemental appropriation for more staff members and technology to handle the checks.
Currently, the CBI does not charge a fee to perform a criminal background check on gun buyers, but does so for other purposes, including performing checks on teachers before they are hired. Taxpayers pick up the cost of performing gun-sale checks.
Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman, a Colorado Springs Republican and gun owner, said he would reserve comment until he saw a specific bill.
Former Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, proposed in 2010 making gun buyers pay for their own background checks to help balance the budget. If gun owners had paid the $10.50 to cover the processing fee, it would have generated an estimated $1.6 million a year in revenue for the state.
Republicans called it a “poll tax” and even Democrats didn’t like the idea. At the time, Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate.
“It didn’t go anywhere because nobody wanted to upset the gun people,” said former Rep. Jack Pommer, a Boulder Democrat who served as chairman of the Joint Budget Committee at the time.
Gun are expected to be a hot topic when the legislative session opens Wednesday, marking the first time since the Columbine High School shootings in 1999 that the issue is expected to take a center stage.
Some lawmakers wanted tougher gun laws after a shooting at an Aurora theater in July that left 12 dead and 58 wounded.
When Republicans lost control of the state House in November – putting the Legislature and the governor’s office in Democratic control – Second Amendment rights-activists worried about a push for stricter gun laws.
The debate only intensified after a massacre last month at a Connecticut elementary school.