By state Sen. Jeanne Nicholson
In late March, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun safety bills into law — bills that I mulled over throughout the legislative session. I examined these bills under the lens of keeping Colorado families safe while honoring the intent of the Second Amendment. Like the majority of other Coloradans, I knew that we needed to take action after the atrocities that occurred in Colorado and throughout the nation. After hearing from people in Gilpin, Boulder, Jefferson and southwest Denver counties, I decided to vote “yes” on five of the seven gun safety bills, and I would like to explain why.
I voted in favor of legislation that closes a background-check loophole. Colorado law already requires background checks when buying a gun from a licensed seller and when purchasing a firearm at gun show — a law that was actually enacted by a vote of the people. However, it’s estimated that 37 percent of guns are sold in private transactions, which are not currently subject to a background check. Some have argued that criminals will find ways to circumvent these checks; however, we still have a responsibility to make it more difficult for them to do so. Here is a list of the number of individuals in Colorado that were denied a firearm due to background restrictions in 2012, and the reasons they were denied: restraining order, 420; kidnapping, 12; sexual assault, 133; robbery, 76; assault, 1,380; burglary, 618; larceny, 498; and dangerous drugs, 1,069. I think these numbers speak for themselves.
One of the more controversial bills was legislation limiting high-capacity magazines, the type used in the Aurora, Newtown, Tucson, Virginia Tech and Fort Hood massacres. Some argue that banning these magazines will not affect criminals; however, evidence suggests that it does reduce crime. Since the federal ban on high-capacity magazines expired, police reported a noticeable increase in the use of high-capacity magazines. A Virginia study indicated the federal ban resulted in a 60 percent decline in the number of guns that had high-capacity magazines that were used to commit crimes.
I also voted in favor of legislation ending the state subsidy for background checks. From 1994 to 1999 Coloradans wishing to purchase a firearm paid a small $10 fee for their background check, a fee citizens wishing to become teachers, doctors and attorneys already pay themselves. This legislation will simply revert to previous statute, and will actually help reduce the current backlog on background checks.
We also passed legislation to help keep victims of domestic violence safer. This legislation ensures that domestic-violence offenders don’t have access to firearms. Research shows that firearms were used in two-thirds of the domestic violence homicides between 1990 and 2005, and a domestic violence victim is 12 times more likely to be killed when a firearm is present.
Finally, I voted in favor of legislation to ensure that citizens who obtain a concealed-carry permit complete a training course with an actual instructor instead of online. Gun training is too important to be conducted online, and this makes certain that those carrying concealed weapons are properly trained and carrying safely. This bill passed with bipartisan support.
I am firmly committed to supporting the rights of my constituents as well the Constitution. The Supreme Court has ruled time and time again that there are reasonable limitations on all rights. As Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
As a state legislator, I take an oath to uphold the constitution, faithfully represent my constituents, work to ensure their well-being, and improve their opportunities. From 2004 to 2011, more than 5,000 people died as a result of firearms, and the United States has the highest rate of gun homicides in the developed world. A recent poll here in Colorado indicated that 55 percent of Coloradans favor common-sense community safety measures, particularly in respect to strengthening background checks and keeping military-style weapons off the streets. Criminals will always find a way to break our laws, but we should not make it easy for them. I believe these bills will make Colorado safer, while having only a minimal impact on law-abiding citizens.