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Last week, the House of Representatives voted to pass two bills that would require background checks for every gun purchase and increase the number of days a seller has to wait for results before completing the sale. It’s the first series of gun control measures out of Congress in over two decades.
With Republicans in control of the Senate, it’s unlikely the bills will become law. President Trump has already said he won’t sign them.
For years, Colorado has been living with the kind of background check regulations that one of the bills would create. Home to two of the nation’s deadliest mass shootings — Columbine and Aurora — it’s viewed by some as a potential model for gun control policy nationwide.
This week, the Colorado House of Representatives approved a measure called the Extreme Risk Protection Order, which supporters say will help prevent gun violence and protect first responders and families. Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Democrat, was one of the sponsors of the bill. His son, Alex, was murdered in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012.
“One of the reasons I ran for office was so I could tell all of you about Alex and about other victims and families of gun violence,” Rep. Sullivan said after the bill passed. “Today, the House stood up and did the right thing. This bill will give law enforcement and families the tools that they need to stop tragedies from constantly happening and save lives.”
We’ll look at Colorado’s existing gun laws, new proposals and how the battle for the Second Amendment is playing out at the state level around the country.
This show was produced by one of our Across America producers, James Morrison. Text by Kathryn Fink.
1A Across America is funded through a grant from The Corporation for Public Broadcasting. CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation created by Congress in 1967 that is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting.
- Leigh Paterson Reporter, KUNC; fellow, Guns & America @leighspaterson
- Patrick Neville Republican State Representative, Colorado's 45th District outside Denver; Columbine Survivor @patrickforco
- Tom Sullivan Democratic State Representative, Colorado's 37th House District outside Denver; Son was killed in Aurora theater shooting @sully_720
1A Across America Interviews Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO)
1A Across America spoke with Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO) to learn more about Democrats’ plans for enacting what they call “common sense” gun legislation. Rep. Crow is a newly elected member representing Aurora, Colorado, the site of a mass shooting at a movie theater in 2012.
Rep. Crow is a former Army Ranger who ran as a gun-control advocate in the midterm elections. He defeated a five-term Republican with an A rating from the NRA. He’s also vice chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and is leading the Democrats’ push for gun control.
Here are some highlights from the interview:
Q: Dozens of gun control advocates won congressional seats in the midterm elections. Do you feel Democrats have a mandate to enact gun control?
A: It used to be that there was a risk in taking on gun violence prevention legislation. What you’ve seen in the last few years in districts like mine is that public sentiment has flipped 180 degrees. The risk is in-action. We have a public health crisis in this country. We have a gun violence crisis. Over 30,000 Americans are being killed on our streets and in our schools to suicide and other gun violence. People are demanding action.
Q: What legislation do you think Congress needs to pass?
A: What we’re asking for is not aggressive legislation. I grew up a hunter. I’m a gun owner now. I was an Army Ranger. But people want safety and security. Let’s extend background checks to ensure people who shouldn’t have firearms and are a danger to their community don’t have firearms. That’s exactly what we did in Colorado following the Aurora theater shooting. We passed a universal background check bill in the state. What HR8 (the background check bill in the House) does is very similar to what we did in Colorado. If you want to purchase a firearm or have one transferred to you, we’re going to make sure you’re not someone who shouldn’t have one. It’s common sense and it will save lives.
Q: Several Democratic lawmakers in Colorado were ousted in a recall vote in 2013 following the passage of gun legislation. Is there concern congressional Democrats will face a backlash from voters for pushing gun control legislation too aggressively?
A: Universal background checks are not too aggressive. This is common sense. We saw that in Colorado after we passed universal background checks in 2013. Over 2,000 people in the state have been prevented from buying firearms who shouldn’t have them. And law-abiding gun owners can still own guns and do anything they did before. Public sentiment has shifted significantly. People are demanding action. They’re demanding leaders at the forefront of this issue that will make our schools safer, make our streets safer and reduce suicides.
Q: How do you pass gun control legislation if it won’t pass a Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump said he won’t sign it into law?
A: What we see in the Senate is a situation where this potentially doesn’t come up for a vote. I call on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it for a vote because the American people deserve to know where their elected officials stand on this issue. The American people are overwhelmingly on our side on this. If their leaders aren’t willing to do what their constituents are calling for — pleading for — then they’re going to be held accountable.
Q: What gun control bills are Democrats in the House currently working on or considering?
A: We’re working to close the Charleston Loophole. This loophole extends the amount of time background checks can be conducted. Right now about 4 to 5 percent of people going in for background checks are buying their firearms without having their background checks completed. Those tend to be folks with domestic abuse convictions in their background. We’re also seeking to reinstate the assault weapon ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004. I was an Army Ranger. There’s a reason I didn’t take my deer-hunting rifle to Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s the same reason I don’t take an assault rifle hunting. These are very different weapons designed to do very different things. This is common sense legislation that respects gun ownership and saves lives.
Q: The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was fresh on people’s minds during the 2018 election. Do you think voters will have the same enthusiasm for gun control in the 2020 election?
A: This will continue to be one of the top issues we see in politics for some time. Frankly, it won’t go away until we address it. What we saw after Parkland was a tipping point. People across America have said ‘this has gone on too long and we haven’t had leaders willing to address it.’ And they are demanding action. That momentum is there and will continue until we have common sense solutions to it.
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