Local heavyweight politicos wasted no time accusing each other of partisan gamesmanship at a panel Tuesday night discussing gun control. The conversation took place as conservatives and liberals from across the nation have targeted Colorado’s efforts to increase restrictions on firearms.
The “Discussion Addressing Gun Violence” was hosted by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL) and moderated by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat. Joining the panel were U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, a Republican, David Kopel, research director for the libertarian Independence Institute, and Tom Deland, president of the Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police.
Buck, who ran an unsuccessful campaign for U.S. Senate in 2010, reminded the hundreds who were in attendance at the Seawell Ballroom at the Denver Performing Arts Complex that Vice President Joe Biden called at least four Democratic legislators last Friday to encourage action on four gun control measures.
Larry Mizel, chairman of The CELL which sponsored the panel discussion on guns, Cheston Mizel, James Yacone, Special Agent at the FBI for the greater Denver area, and Denver Police Chief Robert White.
“It’s really important to point out how partisan this gun bill is,” Buck said of House Bill 1229, sponsored by Fields, which would require universal background checks. “There’s not one single Republican in the House that joined on and there’s three or four Democrats that had the courage to vote no in spite of the vice president of the United States calling…”
Buck, who called background checks “absolutely insane,” was correct that there was division on HB 1229. It passed the House 36-29 on Monday. But only one Democrat, Rep. Ed Vigil, D-Fort Garland, rejected the measure.
The Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (The CELL) executive director Melanie Pearlman.
There was greater dissent within the Democratic caucus on other gun control bills:
• House Bill 1224, sponsored by Fields, would ban high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds. It passed Monday by a vote of 34-31. Vigil, along with Democratic Reps. Steve Lebsock of Thornton and Leroy Garcia of Pueblo voted against the legislation;
• House Bill 1226, sponsored by Rep. Claire Levy, D-Boulder, would prohibit concealed-carry on college campuses. It passed the House by a vote of 34-31. Vigil, Lebsock and Garcia also voted “no” on this measure; and
Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, state Rep. Perry Buck, R-Greeley, The CELL’s Larry Mizel and Arlene Hirschfeld.
• House Bill 1228, sponsored by Rep. Lois Court, D-Denver, would require a fee for background checks. The measure passed the House on a vote of 33-32. Garcia and Vigil, along with Democratic Reps. Dave Young of Greeley and Diane Mitsch Bush of Steamboat Springs voted against the legislation.
But Fields disagreed with Buck’s notion that the issue is strictly political. She said her constituents — from all backgrounds — are encouraging her to keep up the gun control fight.
The CELL’s Larry Mizel and David Kopel, a member of the panel and the researcher at the Independence Institute in Denver.
“Where you have your facts wrong is what Colorado voters are saying about background checks,” she addressed Buck. “Everyone is telling me that background checks is a reasonable approach to addressing gun violence, and it does work. It’s proven to work.”
Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, is a former police chief. He’s pictured here with Larry Mizel after the conclusion of the panel.
Hickenlooper, who mostly kept his opinions to himself as moderator, felt the need to weigh in on the background check issue, which he has been a supporter of broadening. He pointed out that the state has caught 46 felons trying to buy a firearm while using the background check system.
“Criminals are often stupid…” the governor said to a room full of laughter and applause. “So, there is some factual basis for this. It may not catch all of the crooks, but it catches the dumb ones.”
Attorney Don Bain and Major General Andy Love share a laugh during the reception.
Philosophy and reality of gun control
Much of the rest of the gun control panel focused on the philosophy and reality of gun restrictions, which often comes down to Second Amendment arguments.
Lamborn — an ardent supporter of the Second Amendment — made the constitutional argument, while also suggesting that gun control doesn’t prevent mass shootings.
Arapahoe County Commissioner Bill Holen, state Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and state Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville.
“The people who obey gun control laws are the good people; the law-abiding citizens…” opined Lamborn. “The bad guys, or the mentally ill people, are the ones who disregard laws.”
Buck followed that theory, suggesting that the mental health component is the true issue to tackle. He pointed out that in many cases, mass shooters are loaded with psychotherapeutic drugs.
“In the 34 massacres that you talk about, in 27, 28, maybe even 30, the individuals were on Ritalin, Prozac… would you also ban those drugs?” Buck asked Fields.
She said the mental health debate is important, but a separate discussion from the gun control bills currently being debated at the legislature.
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs on the right, with his son Nathan at the reception prior to the panel.
Morse, speaking as both a lawmaker and former police officer, defended his stance that ordinary citizens do not need high-capacity ammunition clips. The panel spent a considerable amount of time debating what constitutes a high-capacity magazine. Fields had originally introduced her HB 1224 to ban magazines that hold 10 or more rounds. But after hearing from law enforcement, the measure was amended to cover 15 or more bullets.
Morse agreed that law enforcement can use high-capacity magazines as a tool. But he said they are not needed for ordinary citizens practicing self-defense.
“I’m being offensive when I’m doing that, and not defensive in just repelling an attack, and as a police officer, unfortunately, that happens many times,” he said.
Kopel pushed Morse, pointing out that police officers walk around with 20-round magazines for defense.
“What’s the difference between a citizen in his home whose got the burglars coming?” asked Kopel. “Why do police need 20-round magazines?”
Morse replied, “I’m not arguing that they need 20-round magazines. I did it for many years very successfully with 14 and a 15th in the chamber.”
To which Kopel asked, “So, you’d be in favor of a law enforcement ban? What’s fair for the goose is fair for the gander?”
Morse simply answered, “I would object as well.”
Democrats have the support of Deland and the Association of Chiefs of Police: “You lost me on the offensive part of your argument,” Deland told Kopel to a raucous applause.
“We believe something should be done,” he said. “When you look at the legislation… we thought it made good common sense.”
National spotlight shines on Colorado
The gun control debate in Colorado has proven to be a microcosm for the conversation on the national level. Colorado is no stranger to high-profile gun violence. In 1999, two gunmen killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School, and just this past July, a gunman killed 12 and injured 58 more at a movie theater in Aurora.
Kopel seized upon comments from Democrats — mainly Reps. Joe Salazar, D-Thornton and Levy — who have suggested that guns can be a poor choice for self-defense because mistakes can be made and innocent people can be shot. The argument has come up primarily through HB 1226, which would prohibit concealed-carry on college campuses.
Salazar made most of the headlines for stating during floor debate on Friday: “It’s why we have call boxes, it’s why we have safe zones, that’s why we have the whistles. Because you just don’t know if you feel like you’re going to be raped, or if you feel like someone’s been following you around, or if you feel like you’re in trouble when you may actually not be, that you pop out that gun and you… pop a round at somebody.”
The remark resulted in a trending hashtag on Twitter, #LiberalTips2AvoidRape. It was fueled by conservative commentary from across the blogosphere, and taken up by popular political commentator Michelle Malkin. Liberals then began fighting back in a Twitter war that tried to resolve who was more despicable.
Kopel carried that torch on Tuesday, stating: “Rep. Salazar, Rep. Levy… very much made the point that self defense just doesn’t work. People aren’t capable of doing it… you’ll make a mistake, you’ll shoot the wrong person.”
For his part, Salazar offered an apology, but said his message was misconstrued and taken out of context.
“I’m sorry if I offended anyone,” he said in a statement. “That was absolutely not my intention. We were having a public policy debate on whether or not guns make people safer on campus. I don’t believe they do.
“That was the point I was trying to make,” he continued. “If anyone thinks I’m not sensitive to the dangers women face, they’re wrong…”
House Republicans were actually silent on Salazar’s comment immediately following debate last Friday night. But after the remark gained momentum, they issued a press release on Tuesday.
The controversy is similar to the debate that raged during last year’s presidential election, in which Democrats painted a “war on women” by Republicans. This time it was Republicans’ turn to depict a war on women.
“Questioning a woman’s judgment over whether or not she is about to be raped is insensitive and insulting to women everywhere,” said Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Littleton. “No matter what sort of policy position you’re trying to advance, questioning the rational ability of women to perceive threats around them is something Democrat leaders should condemn.”
“‘I’m sorry if you were offended’ isn’t an apology; it’s a line in the sand,” continued Rep. Carole Murray, R-Castle Rock. “Democrats place more faith in a criminal’s respect of a ‘safe zone,’ than they do in law-abiding women’s discretion to defend themselves. Cloaking their position by painting women as overly emotional and reactive is an outrageous tactic that should have every woman in Colorado calling on the governor and the speaker to condemn, as I am now.”
House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, said Salazar’s comment was perhaps inappropriate, but that it was taken out of context. Hickenlooper offered a similar statement, saying Salazar was right to apologize.