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Gun Control An Emotional Issue For Citizens, Lawmakers In Colorado


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Colorado lawmakers are pressing ahead with the state's first new gun control laws in more than a decade. The package is modeled in part on what President Obama has proposed at the national level. It would include tighter background checks and limit high-capacity magazines. And there's still plenty of debate to come.

As Colorado Public Radio's Megan Verlee reports, gun laws are an emotional issue in this Western state.

MEGAN VERLEE, BYLINE: If you'd asked Dave Hoover a few years ago how he felt about gun control, the lifelong hunter and Republican knew exactly where he stood.

DAVE HOOVER: I remember when Columbine happened, and I was even one of those that it was always, you know, hey, it's my Second Amendment right to purchase any gun I want.

VERLEE: In the years after Columbine, his thinking about guns began to change. And then last summer, the violence became personal. Hoover's nephew, A.J. Boik was, among the 12 people killed in the Aurora theater attack. That's when he became an advocate for gun control.

HOOVER: You need to have something done about this because nobody else deserves to have, you know, a phone call like that at 2:37 in the morning. And nobody certainly needs to know that they sent their children off to school only to find that their children were killed.

VERLEE: The mass shootings in Aurora and more recently at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, have energized the gun control debate in Colorado for the first time in years. The House passed four Democratic gun bills yesterday, and the Senate will take them up in the next few weeks. They include policies similar to those proposed by the president - universal background checks for all firearms purchases and a limit on the size of ammunition magazines. Colorado Senate Majority Leader Morgan Carroll calls them commonsense measures.

STATE SENATOR MORGAN CARROLL: The reality is, is that even after the passage of the entire package of bills, anyone can still own any firearm as long as they're not a convicted felon or seriously dangerously mentally ill.

VERLEE: The bills being debated wouldn't have kept the accused Aurora theater shooter from arming himself. James Holmes bought all his weapons legally and passed background checks. Republican Senator Ellen Roberts finds that troubling.

STATE SENATOR ELLEN ROBERTS: I don't believe it does anything for public safety. What it will do is make a number of my constituents into criminals.

VERLEE: Roberts says the bills punish law-abiding gun owners who want to sell firearms to friends or family. Roberts is one of the legislature's most moderate members, but she believes Democrats are looking in the wrong place for a solution to gun violence.

ROBERTS: There could be some common ground if we would take the time to figure out from a mental health perspective how is it that people are out there who aren't getting the services they need.

VERLEE: Colorado's governor has proposed a big increase in mental health spending, but right now, the legislature is focused on guns. Democrats control the state legislature, which gives gun bills a better chance in Colorado than in Washington, D.C., which might be why Vice President Joe Biden took the time to call several moderate state representatives last week, urging their support for the bills. But Dudley Brown, with the group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, warns Democrats these policies could have electoral consequences.

DUDLEY BROWN: We're going in legislators' districts. We're going to go in their districts and tell gun owners: This is what politicians are doing to your Second Amendment rights.

VERLEE: Brown and other gun rights groups have successfully derailed past efforts at gun control, which is why even with the bills halfway through the process, Colorado's gun control supporters aren't letting their guard down.

For NPR News, I'm Megan Verlee in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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