Ritter vetoes gun bill, draws fire from GOP sponsor

Cites Columbine shootings in veto message

By Jason Kosena
THE COLORADO STATESMAN

Gov. Bill Ritter signed his first veto of 2009 last week, quashing a bill that would have allowed residents with a concealed-weapons permit to bypass criminal-background checks when purchasing new guns.

The legislation passed with heavy bipartisan support through the Legislature with 19 Democrats in the House and Senate approving the measure. It was sponsored in the House by Rep. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, and in the Senate by Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray.

In his veto letter, Ritter said House Bill 1180 had “numerous troubling aspects” and provided “inadequate safeguards” to public safety including the lack of procedures to require current concealed-weapons carriers who commit felony crimes, or who are suspected of stalking individuals including spouses, to turn in their permit and gun.

“Although current law requires a sheriff to revoke a permit if the permittee is no longer qualified to purchase a firearm and section 5 of the bill requires a sheriff to confiscate a concealed handgun permit upon revocation, there is nothing in the bill that assures that revocation will take place promptly upon a disqualifying event,“ Ritter wrote.

“This is because House Bill 1180 does nothing to help assure that a sheriff who issued a concealed handgun permit is promptly notified of a disqualifying event,” he continued. “In short, it is easily foreseeable that a potential purchaser will be in possession of a concealed handgun permit for a substantial period of time after the potential purchaser would no longer be qualified to purchase a firearm. Under such circumstances only a criminal background check conducted contemporaneously with a purchase would prevent an unqualified person from purchasing a firearm.”

In addition, Ritter said there was no provision in the bill that assured law enforcement officials would be able to identify concealed-weapons carriers at the time of arrest and didn’t allow for a requirement that gun dealers run a background check on the concealed-weapons permit itself to ensure it was valid.

“For instance, current law places substantial limits on a sheriff’s ability to share information regarding who has a valid concealed weapons permit,” Ritter wrote. “Specifically, existing law only authorizes a sheriff to disclose the identity of a concealed weapon permittee to ‘another criminal justice agency for law enforcement purposes,’ and even then the decision to disclose such information rests within the sheriff’s ‘sole discretion.’”

Ritter also referenced the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 by an eighteen-year-old who had purchased a firearm at a gun show without a criminal background check. In the wake of that tragedy, Colorado passed the Colorado Background Check Act as Amendment 22 in the 2000 general election. Ritter said that the bill would have weakened the Colorado Background Check Act by reopening the very loophole that Coloradans voted to overwhelmingly close less than nine years ago.

Not surprisingly, Republicans were up in arms over the veto calling it an assault on the Second Amendment.

“Before siding with the radical anti-gun lobby, Gov. Ritter should have looked to fellow western governors who have come down on the side of law abiding citizens — and protected their rights to own and bear arms,” said Sen. Greg Brophy. “Gov. Ritter has proven once again how out of touch he is with the common sense values of Colorado.”

Brophy also pointed to other Democratic governors in Western states who have signed similar legislation before calling Ritter out for his “extremist” views. The Democrat governor in Montana recently signed into law the “Montana Firearms Freedom Act” which is legislation aimed at protecting gun owners’ rights.

“It would be nice if our governor would show the same type of political courage in standing up for our constitutional rights as his counterpart in Montana,” Brophy said. “Standing against our Second Amendment rights is not a good place for this governor to be standing heading into 2010.”