Colorado GOP gun rights bills go down in lopsided battle

Colorado GOP gun rights bills go down in lopsided battle

DENVER — Close to 1:00 a.m. on Tuesday, six gun-rights bills had been shot down as expected in the General Assembly’s Democratic-controlled House State Affairs Committee. The crowd trickled out of the committee room to leave only a cluster of lobbyists from hard-charging gun-politics group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners standing alone against the back wall.

The slate of bills under consideration contained proposals aimed at repealing background checks for gun purchases, restrictions on carrying firearms and a ban on high-capacity magazines. The committee also heard a bill that sought to open up public school grounds to armed staff and visitors licensed to carry concealed weapons.

The bills, all sponsored by Republicans, were written in reaction to gun control laws passed in 2013 by Democratic majorities acting in response to mass shootings at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

All or nothing

The night’s long debate spun mostly around the magazine-ban repeal, sponsored by Stephen Humphrey from Severance, and the school bill, sponsored by Patrick Neville from Castle Rock.

The magazine ban, SB 175, has been perhaps the most argued over among the suite of gun bills passed two years ago. It bans all ammunition magazines that contain more than 15 rounds.

The magazine-ban repeal was defeated by a single vote.

Opponents criticized the bill as an “all or nothing” proposal that offered, for example, no alternative-sized magazine — 20 rounds? 30 rounds? — that might be considered. But to supporters that was the attraction of the bill. They said placing any limit on the number of bullets law-abiding Americans can buy would be an equally unconstitutional infringement on fundamental rights.

“We don’t support any limits. That would be just switching to some other arbitrary amount,” said James Bardwell, speaking for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the National Association for Gun Rights.

It was an argument intended less to sway lawmakers than to make a point. It is a philosophical and legal argument, and ultimately no match for the arguments coming from the other side, which were emotional and graphic.

Opponents of the so-called high-capacity magazine ban repeal said a gun fitted with more than 15 rounds was useful mainly as a tool of attack and of mass killing.

To make the point, Rep. Max Tyler, D-Lakewood, asked a series of witnesses if they had ever heard of anyone in Colorado using magazines of 15 rounds or more to defend themselves.

He got no answer until a lawyer for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Clifford Anderson, recounted his experience as a member of a special forces military unit serving in combat zones overseas.

“We were issued three or four 20-round magazines for our M-16s — and that just wasn’t enough,” he said, his voice wavering with emotion.

Jane Dougherty explained that the body of her sister Mary Sherlach, a school psychologist killed at Sandy Hook, was destroyed by more than ten military-grade bullets fired from a semi-automatic. She thought Anderson’s response ironically made the case against the repeal.

“High capacity magazines have no place in our societies… They are the accoutrements of war,” she said.

Frankly appalled

The school bill, HB 1168, similarly drew testimony from teachers and the family members of victims killed in Newtown and Aurora and in the notorious 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton.

“I’m frankly appalled by this proposal,” said Marilyn Hughes, a retired teacher from Longmont. “I don’t see anything here [in the bill] about training or promoting safety. All I see is that it repeals restrictions on bringing guns into schools. Given the tragedies and the news every day of murders and accidents with guns, I absolutely do not believe as a 30-year veteran teacher that this is worth supporting.”

The bill’s sponsor Patrick Neville – one of the “no-compromise” members of the unofficial Rocky Mountain Gun Owners caucus at the Capitol – explained that he is a survivor of the Columbine school shootings and that he believes the only way to meet the threat of an armed mass-murderer is to be equipped to respond in the moment. He said such massacres unfold in minutes, long before authorities can arrive to help.

But he failed to persuade, as well, with moving testimony stacked up high on the other side. His opponents dismissed his bill and the others as products of the gun lobby.

“In fact, this bill comes as no surprise to me,” said Dougherty. “It proposes that the answer to gun violence in the schools is to put more guns into the schools. I’m not surprised, because that’s the gun lobby’s answer.

“It’s a simplified Hollywood response,” she said. “My sister Mary was in a meeting when she heard the sound of the shooting. So what do you think, she would have gone to her locked gun safe, because you can’t leave a gun around for a student to pick up, and she would have got her gun and ran down the hall around the blind corner to the school lobby, firing her gun, Mary the superhero, taking one shot, so there would be no crossfire, and she would have saved the day? Do we really believe that?”

Don Macalady, from Hunters against Gun Violence, also testified against the magazine ban repeal and the school bill.

“You say [the magazine ban] is unenforceable, but a lot of laws are unenforceable — laws regulating the hunting season, laws on lewd public behavior… these are unenforceable. But we don’t see a parade of witnesses every year coming to testify against those laws — and that’s because they’re not supported by the gun lobby.

“Voting to repeal the magazine ban is a vote for a manufacturing industry,” he said.

Another era

Republican lawmaker Dan Thurlow from Grand Junction supported the magazine ban repeal, but he broke with Republicans to vote against several of the other bills.

That the bills were all voted down was a preordained conclusion to what has become a ritual at the Colorado Capitol over the last two years. But it still took 12 hours of testimony.

James Winchester, a gun-rights lawyer and former vice president of the Colorado State Shooting Association, explained that many supporters of the Republican bills didn’t show up because they saw this hearing as a pro-forma exercise.

“Law enforcement and citizens are practicing civil disobedience,” he said. “That’s why they’re not here today. They’re simply ignoring the magazine ban.”

That the “gunny” side of the debate seemed thin made the proceedings seem all the more perfunctory. The gun-rights passion that ruled the 2013 legislative session — when the gun-control laws were first passed by majority-party Democrats — fueled conservative politics in the state for more than a year.

Somewhere early in the debate that stretched from Monday into Tuesday, 2013 began to seem like another era.

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About the Author

John Tomasic

Writer, editor, teacher, web wrangler. He has worked for art, business, culture, politics publications, five universities and a UN war crimes commission. @johntomasic
jtomasic@coloradoindependent.com | 720-432-2128 |

5 Comments

  1. Will Morrison on said:

    “He got no answer until a lawyer for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Clifford Anderson, recounted his experience as a member of a special forces military unit serving in combat zones overseas.

    “We were issued three or four 20-round magazines for our M-16s — and that just wasn’t enough,” he said, his voice wavering with emotion.”

    Someone needs to get Mr Anderson some mental help. He apparently hasn’t EVER come back from being in war. He is EXACTLY the type of person who SHOULDN’T have a magazine that large. It seems that he’s not mentally or emotionally capable of moving on. He still believes he’s in a war zone. At what point does he lose his mind and go into a flashback and start shooting? He is EXACTLY WHY we need these regulations.

    These gun nuts are just that, NUTS. Their stance on things that involve other people’s lives is remarkably cavalier and very selfish. They talk about how it’s for protection, but who are they pissing off that they need so much protection? Statistically, you’re safer in society today than you’ve been in DECADES, but these nuts are SO afraid of everything Faux Noise tells them to be that they live in CONSTANT fear of things that just don’t exist. This is not only dangerous for them, but it’s dangerous for the rest of us, too. And it’s just NOT necessary.

    Sorry, folks. but the way people in this country use guns at the FIRST Opportunity rather than the last tells me that these are the very people who we need protection FROM. And more guns is NOT the way to do it.

    Thank you, legislature, for letting SANITY take the day.

  2. Jim on said:

    Well Will, I’d gather by your emotional rant that in fact you are the one that would be dangerous to have a firearm, not Mr. Anderson. As you judge him by his expression of emotion so shall you be judged.

    Fact is no one has been saved by the magazine limit, but many have been put in jeopardy. When the bill was first introduced as a 10 round limit it was shown that in just the 2 months from Sandy Hook till then 10 or more rounds were fired in self defense at least 10 times by citizens attacked by criminals.

    The number is irrelevant, you need as many rounds as it takes to defend yourself and your family from home invaders, multiple assailants, riots, criminial aliens taking your ranch for a way station for drug smuggling, civil insurrection or ultimately against a government whose agents are bent on killing you for no good reason (aka the Nazis).

    Aiding and abetting enemies of the people of the United Sates in Colorado is treason. Impairing their ability to defend themselves against foreign or domestic enemies is aiding those enemies. Voting for the ban or supporting it is treason.

    As much as the relatives of victims want to control everyone else – their supposed “right to life” doesn’t trump anyone else’s right to defend their own lives as they see fit. Criminal acts are criminal acts, Holmes should get the death penalty. But millions of others did not committ that crime and have no business being made to pay a price for it.

  3. John Deaux on said:

    Magazine limits have never been proven to reduce firearm violence. Even in Colorado, the Colombine shooting took place during the national magazine limit. The two perpetrators used 10 round magazines.

    The real purpose of magazine limits is to get a “foot in the door.” Whatever it takes. Seven rounds is the limit in New York; 15 rounds is the limit in Colorado. The goal, of course, is ZERO rounds, but to get there, there has to be a limit.

    Some anti-gun people will admit that’s the goal, but most know to achieve that goal they have to pretend they just want some regulation. Most know the “end game” is a total ban with confiscation. The proverbial camel knew not to ask for the entire tent at once – likewise, gun ban advocates know not to as for too much at a time.

  4. David on said:

    Those who are all for the 15 round magazine limit likely believe that speed limits stop speeding and no trespassing signs stop trespassers.

    Does anyone really, truly, believe that someone with bad intentions cares about a limit on anything? Really? This ban is more to show that (most) democrats want to be known for doing “something” regardless of what it is or how it stops nothing.

    How many democrats speed in a daily basis? How is that limit working for them?

  5. Keith on said:

    Argument: We should ban magazines over X number of shots!

    It sounds good to the ear and really satisfies that we’ve got to do something need. It sounds simple. Bad guys shoot a lot of people in a mass shooting. So if he has magazines that hold fewer rounds, ergo then he’ll not be able to shoot as many people. First off, why do gun owners want magazines that hold more rounds? Because sometimes you miss. Because usually—contrary to the movies—you have to hit an opponent multiple times in order to make them stop. Because sometimes you may have multiple assailants.

    We don’t have more rounds in the magazine so we can shoot more, we have more rounds in the magazine so we are forced to manipulate our gun less if we have to shoot more. The 1994 gun ban capped capacities at ten rounds. You quickly realize ten rounds is awful when you take a wound ballistics class like I have and go over case after case after case after case of enraged, drug addled, prison hardened, perpetrators who soaked up five, seven, nine, even fifteen bullets and still walked under their own power to the ambulance. That isn’t uncommon at all.

    Legally, you can shoot them until they cease to be a threat, and keep in mind that what normally causes a person to stop is loss of blood pressure, so I used to tell my students that anybody worth shooting once was worth shooting five or seven times. You shoot them until they leave you alone.

    Also, you’re going to miss. It is going to happen. If you can shoot pretty little groups at the range, those groups are going to expand dramatically under the stress and adrenalin. The more you train, the better you will do, but you can still may miss, or the bad guy may end up hiding behind something which your bullets don’t penetrate. Nobody has ever survived a gunfight and then said afterwards, “Darn, I wish I hadn’t brought all that extra ammo.” So having more rounds in the gun is a good thing for self-defense use.

    Now tactically, let’s say a mass shooter is on a rampage in a school. Unless his brain has turned to mush and he’s a complete idiot, he’s not going to walk up right next to you while he reloads anyway. Unlike the CCW holder who gets attacked and has to defend himself in whatever crappy situation he finds himself in, the mass shooter is the aggressor. He’s picked the engagement range. They are cowards who are murdering running and hiding children, but don’t for a second make the mistake of thinking they are dumb. Many of these scumbags are actually very intelligent. They’re just broken and evil.

    In the cases that I’m aware of where the shooter had guns that held fewer rounds they just positioned themselves back a bit while firing or they brought more guns, and simply switched guns and kept on shooting, and then reloaded before they moved to the next planned firing position.

    Unless you are a fumble fingered idiot, anybody who practices in front of a mirror a few dozen times can get to where they can insert a new magazine into a gun in a few seconds.

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