Guns, guns and more gun (bills) at the state Capitol this week

Update: In a hearing that lasted for more than eight hours, the House State Affairs Committee Wednesday killed all three gun bills on its calendar on party-line votes. Most of those testifying on the three bills (concealed weapons at public schools, Make My Day for business and repeal of the 2013 limit on ammunition magazines) asked the committee to vote the bills down.

This is the week for gun bills at the state Capitol. Five bills dealing with gun rights issues, all proposed by Republicans, are moving through the House and Senate, although none are expected to survive long enough to make their way to the desk of Gov. John Hickenlooper, who would likely bring out the veto pen, anyway.

But gun rights remain a contentious issue in this state where there have been two mass shootings —  the 1999 killing of 13 people at Columbine High School, and the 2102 killing of 12 people at an Aurora movie theater.

Two of the five bills attempt to weaken a law passed in the wake of the Aurora shooting limiting the size of gun magazines to 15 rounds, meaning no magazine manufactured or sold in Colorado could hold more than 15 bullets. Those sold before 2013 were grandfathered in.

Prior to 2013, there was no legal state limit on how many rounds magazines could hold.

At the time, Democrats held a five-seat majority in the state Senate, and they took advantage of that control by passing bills that fired up both sides of the gun debate. The passage of the 2013 bills led to recalls of two Democratic state senators, including Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs, and the resignation of a third senator (Sen. Evie Hudak of Arvada), who stepped down to avoid a recall. And that, in turn, led to the Republican takeover of the state Senate a year later, with the election of then-Sen. Laura Woods of Westminster, who led the Hudak recall effort.

Gun rights supporters have tried in vain every year since then to repeal the magazine limit. Supporters argue the law is unenforceable and that no evidence exists that such limits reduce the incidence of mass shootings. In the heat of the debate, Magpul Industries, which makes magazines, threatened to pull out of Colorado, and in 2014, the company announced it would move to Wyoming, putting 100 employees out of work.

However, the claim by Magpul that the magazine ban was driving the company out of the state was challenged when KDVR reported that the company sought financial assistance for expansion from Wyoming and Texas a year before the 2013 legislative session.

Related: Magpul relocating because it landed long-sought financial deal

In past years, most notably 2015, Republicans had hoped to peel off a couple of Democratic votes in the House for the repeal, based on efforts to compromise on the number of bullets a magazine should hold. But those efforts were stymied, partly because of infighting between gun rights organizations. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners wanted no part of a compromise. The Independence Institute and the National Rifle Association both supported a compromise to hike the limit to 30 rounds.

Related: Rocky Mountain Gun Owners no-compromise gun bills die

This year two separate efforts — one in the House and one in Senate — are underway to overturn the magazine limit. Republican Sen. Vicki Marble of Fort Collins is the sponsor of a repeal bill that passed the state Senate on Tuesday, on an 18-17 party-line vote. Democrats mounted a furious debate on the bill Monday. “Whenever you use a high-capacity magazine, the intent is to kill as many people as are in your way,” Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields of Aurora said.

The bill now heads to the Democratic-controlled House, where its defeat is all but guaranteed.

Over in the House, the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, controlled by Democrats, will take up an identical magazine-limit bill at 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, along with a measure that would expand the “Make My Day” law. State law allows a homeowner to use deadly force to repel intruders. Under a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Justin Everett of Littleton, a business owner, manager or business employee also would have the right to use deadly force against intruders or those who might be suspected of committing a crime, including against customers in the business. Everett sponsored a similar bill last year.

The same committee will also hear testimony on a bill that would allow people to carry concealed handguns at public schools. This measure, sponsored by House Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville of Castle Rock and Rep. Kim Ransom of Colorado Springs, seeks to repeal a law passed in 2003.

Another bill heading over from the Senate to the House is a measure to allow county sheriffs to offer handgun safety courses to public school employees who also hold concealed weapons permits. Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker is the bill’s sponsor. The proposal would also overturn part of the 2003 law prohibiting guns on school grounds. That bill passed on Monday on an 18-17 party-line vote.

Notable about all of the bills: the lack of public lobbying efforts by the gun rights community. The lobbyist database maintained by the Secretary of State shows the National Rifle Association (NRA) backs the Senate repeal bill, but hasn’t weighed in on the identical House bill. The County Sheriffs’ Association is backing only the Holbert training bill.

Rocky Mountain Gun Owners says on its website it backs all of the gun bills, and a representative of that group did testify in support of the repeal bill last month, as did representatives from the NRA and the Firearms Coalition of Colorado. It comes in marked contrast to the efforts by gun rights supporters in 2013, when they drove around the Capitol, honking car horns for the better part of an entire day. 

Several other gun measures are waiting in the wings, but like the rest, aren’t expected to pass. They include a bill allowing military personnel between the ages of 18 and 20 to hold concealed weapons permits; and a bill sponsored by Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton to allow “a law-abiding person” to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

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