Time for a conversation about gun rights, public safety

This week, the House Judiciary Committee heard two measures, which I ultimately supported, that have generated more unilateral messaging than any other issue since my election. Overwhelmingly, my constituents and many others have been distressed about my votes in favor of expanded background checks for firearms and magazine limitations.

We cannot continue to address gun violence with knee-jerk reactions on either side of the debate. There are people in this district who believe the Second Amendment is the only amendment that cannot have any limitations or parameters around it in any way. There are also people in this district who believe we should ban all assault weapons, all high-capacity magazines and do whatever we can to discourage gun ownership. I am a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment who is also concerned about the gun violence that permeates our society. I am concerned about the use of guns by criminals and the mentally ill.

As your elected state representative, I have a responsibility to reach common ground, reasonable and common-sense solutions that respect the Second Amendment and protect the public. For these reasons, and in light of the history of the Colorado InstaCheck System, I joined Gov. John Hickenlooper in supporting House Bill 1229, which expands the ability of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the mentally unstable and domestic-violence offenders.

Under the law, the only people who will not be granted access to weapons are people who have been convicted, or are under indictment for a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year, fugitives, users of controlled substances, undocumented residents, dishonorably discharged veterans or those who have renounced their citizenship, people subject to a restraining order for harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or child, and those convicted of any crime of domestic violence.

In Colorado, we add delinquents who have been adjudicated for a crime that, if committed by an adult, would be a felony. All law-abiding citizens may possess weapons and will pass the new background checks.

While some argue that background checks are the first step to registration, I disagree. As I stated at the hearing, I will never support registration of firearms or ammunition. The present InstaCheck Program approves 98 percent of guns purchases, and this new statute provides for an appeal and review by a court if there is evidence of a wrongful denial. In 2011 alone, the CBI prevented almost 6,000 criminals from buying guns. We also recommended an appropriation of $1.5 million to make the InstaCheck system more responsive to Colorado gun owners.

Background checks are an important protection that ensures law-abiding citizens can purchase firearms while keeping guns out of the hands of people who, by their conduct, have shown they are not responsible. Nationally, the total number of criminals and other prohibited purchasers who fail background checks at licensed gun dealers approaches 150,000 per year.

In states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are killed by their domestic partners. Suicides with a handgun are 49 percent lower in states that require a background check. As Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in the District of Columbia vs. Heller decision, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”

The second bill I voted on, HB 1224, established magazine capacity limitations of 15 rounds for handguns and rifles and eight rounds for shotguns. The reasoning behind the bill is to restrict access to high-capacity magazines that have been used in 34 mass shootings in recent years and account for up to a quarter of all gun violence and an even higher percentage of fatal police shootings.

The rationale was to allow law enforcement, our military and other authorized users to retain this capacity while attempting to keep it out of the hands of mass murderers.

The shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, would have been much more deadly had Jared Loughner not stopped to reload his magazine and been tackled. If James Holmes’s high-capacity magazine didn’t jam at the theater in Aurora, we would have seen an even more deadly outcome. And in Newtown, Conn., it’s been reported that 11 children were able to escape while Adam Lanza was reloading.

Will this legislation prevent all mass shootings? No. But will it make some of these horrific shootings less deadly? Absolutely.

Opposing views are completely polarized. This bill was supported by the Colorado Police Association and a multitude of victims-rights advocates and was opposed by some of the sheriffs of Colorado and gun-rights advocates. Because I believe that a reasonable limitation on magazine capacity is constitutional, I moved to increase the number of rounds for handguns and rifles to 15 and shotguns to eight, where it was previously at 10 and five.

I understand that there are those who believe that any restriction on the Second Amendment is unconstitutional, but I return to Scalia’s statement that reasonable parameters around the Second Amendment are constitutional.

I would like to point out that this bill does not restrict, in any way, the number of handguns, rifles and shotguns that any citizen may possess, nor does it restrict the number of magazines or the amount of ammunition that any citizen can use to defend himself or herself.

As I stated at the outset, we need to have a conversation about guns, the Second Amendment, mental health and public safety. As I stated during my campaign, I will not adhere to absolute ideological views, and will seek common ground and common-sense solutions to the matters we face in the state Legislature.

Mike McLachlan represents House District 59 in Colorado’s General Assembly. The district encompasses La Plata, Archuleta, San Juan, Ouray and Hinsdale counties and part of Gunnison counties. Call McLachlan at (303) 866-2914 or email mike.mclachlan.house@state.