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GOP targets gun-control bills

Democrats must revisit politically costly issues

DENVER – Republicans are moving fast to repeal gun-control legislation Colorado Democrats passed two years ago in response to mass shootings. The GOP hopes it will have the momentum necessary to succeed with more members at the statehouse.

Among the first bills introduced when the legislative session started this week were measures to strike laws that limit the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and require background checks on firearms sold online and between private sellers.

After November’s elections, the state Senate is under Republican control for the first time in 10 years. But Democrats control the House, making repeal efforts difficult. At the very least, however, the repeal bills put Democrats in the awkward position of revisiting what has been a thorny topic for their party.

The laws Republicans are trying to roll back were centerpieces of the Democrats’ agenda during the 2013 legislative session, but they were politically costly. Two of their state senators were ousted with recall elections, and a third resigned while gun-rights supporters gathered signatures for another recall.

A lawsuit to overturn the laws is pending, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper repeatedly has had to defend his decision to sign the bills.

“There’s a lot of Coloradoans that just find the (law) very onerous,” said Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Severance, referring to the magazine limit, which he is attempting to strike. Opponents of the magazine limit have argued it restricts people’s ability to defend themselves.

Republican Sen. Laura Woods, a first-year lawmaker who helped on two of the three recall campaigns, said the stringent gun laws don’t work.

“All that we have to do is look at gun-free zones – Chicago, Paris – and ask the question, do these laws prevent criminals from getting guns? They don’t,” she said. Chicago has an assault-weapons ban, and the city does not allow gun dealers within its boundaries. People in France do not have a legally protected right to bear arms and need a hunting or sporting license to buy a gun.

Woods is the Senate sponsor of a bill making its way through the House that would do away with the 2013 expansion of background checks.

But both repeal bills in the House already have been assigned to a committee certain to defeat the proposals. Still, the bills can come up again in the Senate, where they face better odds with a Republican majority.

Democrats passed the gun laws in the aftermath of the Aurora theater massacre and the mass shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, a Democrat who sponsored the expansion of background checks and the magazine limit, said it would be “bad public policy” to undo the laws.

“We know that background checks save lives because it prevents criminals and people who shouldn’t have (guns) from having access to guns,” said Fields, whose district includes the Aurora theater where 12 people were killed and dozens wounded.

“We know what happened in that theater. We had someone go into a theater, and in 90 seconds, he did a lot of damage, and it was because he had a high-capacity magazine, and his goal was to try to kill as many people as he could,” she said.

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