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Report on Hearings for Gun Reform, May 2-7, 2021


HB21-1298 Expanding Background Checks

Sponsors:  Reps. Judy Amabile and Steven Woodrow, Senators Julie Gonzales and Brittany Pettersen

The hearing took around 3 hours before the bill passed on a 7-4 party-line vote.  20  spoke in support,  8 spoke in opposition. 

The bill would tighten background checks so that 1) firearms cannot be transferred to individuals with certain violent misdemeanor convictions within the prior 5 years.  2) CBI would not be limited to 3-days for background checks (Charleston Loophole), 3) CBI would have 60 days to resolve appeals, rather than the current 30 days, and 4) CBI could use the failure to determine final disposition of a criminal case as a reason to deny a firearm transfer.  

Rep. Amabile, who represents Boulder, spoke of being at the site of the Boulder shooting and how it felt like a “war zone.”  She stated that Fate was sealed 6 days before the shooting when the alleged shooter purchased his weaponry. The time to stop it was at the time of purchase.  It was the time to stop a man with a history of violent behavior.  

Rep. Woodrow stated “If guns made us safer – we’d be the safest country in the world,” and then asked “What should we do about this?”  He answered his own question by saying:  “Everything we can.” 

Dr. Garen Wintemute, an ER doc and researcher from UC Davis, reported that research has shown that someone with a prior violent misdemeanor conviction has a 9-fold increase in committing rape, robbery, and aggravated assault and murder.  With more than one violent conviction it rose to a 15-fold increase. With regard to the Charleston Loophole, he stated over 3000 persons in US inappropriately were sold firearms in the last year because of the 3-day limit. 

Taylor Rhodes (Rocky Mountain Gun Owners) indicated that there is no reason to close the Charleston Loophole because gun dealers won’t sell until they get an okay from CBI.  Apparently, he didn’t hear the numbers given by Dr. Wintemute.  In speaking against the violent misdemeanor prohibition, he stated that even felons should be able to exercise their 2nd amendment rights. 

Rep. Carver questioned whether the misdemeanors enumerated were actually violent, stating that some of the behaviors in question, while reprehensible (such as crimes against at-risk persons and cruelty to animals), weren’t necessarily violent. 

Dan Nelson, speaking in opposition to the bill, stated that we need to teach the public about consequences for their actions and that in the old days we “strung ‘em up on a tree.” 

Claire Levy, Boulder County Commissioner and speaking in support of the bill, shared that the US doesn’t have more crime than other developed countries, we just have more gun violence. 

Vincent Atchity from Mental Health Colorado observed that this isn’t what we intended to set up when we established a union. He quoted from an FBI report “Prevention can not be passive.” 

Jafar Partomah, speaking in opposition to the bill, questioned why “I am judged by the actions of others?”, failing to note that he would not be affected if he doesn’t have a violent record. 

Michael Stapleton, another opponent, stated that “No law could stop a person hell-bent on doing evil.”  He called this bill “legislative malpractice”   Later, Rep. Amabile said that if we fail to pass this bill at this time, that would be legislative malpractice. 

HB21-1299 Establishing the Office of Gun Violence Prevention

Sponsors:  Reps. Tom Sullivan and Jennifer Bacon, Senators Rhonda Fields and Chris Hansen

The hearing took nearly 5 hours before the bill passed on an 8-5 party-line vote.  25 people spoke in support, 5 (the regulars) spoke in opposition. 

This bill would establish the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which would be charged with conducting public awareness campaigns on gun laws and gun safety, collaborating with researchers, being a repository for data and providing grants to violence intervention programs. 

In his closing, Rep. Sullivan stated “This is how you build hope.  Without dreams, all you have are nightmares.”

Strange:  Rep. Mary Bradfield (R-Colorado Springs) noted that she was surprised this was not being done already, and was encouraged by the monies going to community intervention.   She then stated she would be a YES on the bill, but alarmed Republican colleagues apparently sprang into action, and within five minutes she indicated she would be voting NO. 

Bad Form: Rep. Colin Larson was concerned that monies would be going into political campaigns and supporting political candidates.  He offered 3 amendments, but had not conferred with either the sponsors or the chair on these.  They were defeated; expect to see them on the House floor. 

Dr. Garen Wintemute stated that twenty cases in California of potential shootings were stopped by ERPO’s.  He also emphasized the importance of evaluating the effectiveness of intervention efforts. 

Several members of affected communities spoke of the need for funds to interrupt the cycle of violence. 

Rep. Richard Holtorf repeatedly noted a need to get to the root causes of the violence. 

Several opponents, including Taylor Rhodes (Rocky Mountain Gun Owners), stated this was just the first step to taking their guns away.  Rhodes even suggested that Governors would select people off “Bloomberg’s Rolodex” to staff the office.  In response, Rep, Ortiz questioned where that appeared in the bill, and also where did it appear that “guns would be taken away.”

Mario Acevedo, who is opposed to the bill, shared the success of the Oakland Operation Ceasefire, which had proven success in reducing gun violence.  He indicated that we should be doing something similar in Colorado and not investing in the Office.  Ari Davis from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence later clarified programs like the Oakland one are exactly what the office is intended to fund.   

Beth McCann, Denver DA, spoke in support of the Office and noted the escalation of violence, stating that in Denver in 2021 murders are up 38% and aggravated assaults are up 61.8%. 

Several pediatric physicians spoke and it was good to hear that Children’s Hospital of Colorado is in support of the bill. 

Michelle McDaniel shared information about the Hospital Intervention program at Denver Health, noting they had 636 bedside interventions in 2020 but need more support for wrap-around services.

There were a number of questions about the fiscal note, which is $3 million, but supporters noted the high costs off gun violence,  

Rep. Pelton stated that guns, in and of themselves, are not the problem.  Mental health is.