DENVER – Honking cars circled the Capitol, a biplane with an anti-gun control message cruised overhead, and “Don’t Tread On Me” flags fluttered in the snow as the state Senate took up seven gun bills in its committees Monday.
It promised to be an extraordinary day, with 21 hours of testimony scheduled in two committees that will hear the seven bills that make up the bulk of the Democratic gun-control agenda.
Shooting victims and the families of murder victims led off testimony. Space Shuttle Commander Mark Kelly, husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., spoke out in favor of tighter background checks and smaller ammunition magazines.
Giffords was shot in the head while meeting constituents at a grocery store by a disturbed young man with a handgun and two 33-round magazines. Bystanders tackled him when he ran out of bullets and went to reload the magazine, but not before killing six people, Kelly said.
“Dangerous people with weapons specifically designed to kill quickly and efficiently have turned every single corner of our society into places of carnage and gross human loss,” he said.
He urged the Legislature to pass House Bill 1229, which requires background checks for all gun sales, including between private parties or on the Internet.
Giffords’ shooter passed an Arizona background check, despite a history in the Army of mental illness and drug abuse, Kelly said.
Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, questioned Kelly about the effectiveness of background checks.
“Would we not be far better off going after mental illness than we are background checks?” Crowder said.
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, said her bill requires more timely mental health information to be uploaded into the state’s background check database.
Four gun bills have already passed the House and could pass through the Senate within the week. Senators also planned to hear three new bills for the first time Monday.
One of the new bills prohibits gun ownership by people convicted of domestic violence crimes or people suspected of domestic violence who have protective orders that forbid them from contact with their alleged victims.
“I believe we must do everything in our power to address the alarming rate at which Coloradans, especially, our women, are losing their lives,” said the sponsor, Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster.
La Plata County resident Dick Dahl spoke in favor of Hudak’s bill.
Dahl, who identified himself as a Marine Corps veteran, said he owns a .357 pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun “and a .22 that is older than I am.”
He took a narrow view of the Second Amendment, saying that owning a gun is a privilege.
“The only arm in existence in 1791 was a smooth-bore musket,” Dahl said.
Opponents to the bill were expected to rule the afternoon. Hundreds of people, mostly wearing pro-gun stickers, packed into the Capitol’s hallways and overflowed its committee rooms. A biplane circled overhead with a message for Gov. John Hickenlooper: “Hick: Don’t take away our guns.”