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Colorado Senate Begins Voting on Gun Measures

The Colorado Senate began voting on seven gun control measures Friday. Final action on the bills is expected Monday. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks.

DENVER — The Colorado Senate began voting Friday on a series of gun control measures that could serve as a barometer for the rest of the nation, as lawmakers around the country try to respond to the December mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Four of the bills have already passed the Democratic-controlled House. Those bills would extend background checks to personal sales, force gun buyers to pay the background check fee, limit ammunition magazine size and ban concealed weapons from being carried on college campuses.

Three additional bills being considered in the Senate would restrict firearm possession for people who have committed domestic violence, hold manufacturers liable for assault weapons deaths and mandate concealed weapons permit applicants to take some in-person gun safety training.

Follow Colorado Public Radio’s Check and Balance blog for up-to-the-minute coverage of Colorado’s legislature:

Although Democrats control the Senate, it was far from clear whether they would be able to hold onto enough of their members to pass the measures. If they lose just three, the bills could fail.

State Sen. Cheri Jahn is under pressure to support three gun bills she calls “unenforceable.”

State Sen. Cheri Jahn, a Democrat from the Denver suburb of Wheat Ridge, told the NewsHour she will vote against the magazine limit, the ban on concealed weapons and the gun liability measures because she believes they cannot be enforced and will not stop gun violence. She admitted she was under intense pressure from her party but says she cannot in good conscience support them.

Friday’s debate was expected to be heated. Earlier in the week, gun rights activists launched a noisy honk-a-thon, driving their cars and trucks around the Capitol building and packing committee hearing rooms as the bills were drafted. But the tone in the chamber today was almost somber as lawmakers spoke about their own personal experiences with violence. The domestic abuse bill was the first to be considered. Democrat Edie Hudak said she was sponsoring the bill to honor a former student who had been killed by a boyfriend. She said the bill was a common sense piece of legislation that struck a reasonable balance between rights and safety.

State Sen. Bill Cadman spoke in emotional terms about his own family, but said the domestic abuse gun bill would do nothing to curb violence.

Republican Minority Leader Bill Cadman countered with his own personal story of an abusive father who used to beat his 10-year-old brother with a screwdriver. Cadman said he would support a domestic abuse gun bill if he thought it would make a difference. But he said this bill doesn’t do that.

Perhaps one of the most controversial bills to be considered today was extending background checks to the private sale of guns. Majority Leader Morgan Carroll of Aurora said that 80 percent of guns found at crime scenes were purchased from private sellers. She said closing the private seller loophole would go a long way to modernize Colorado’s gun laws.

Democratic State Sen. Morgan Carroll from Aurora, Colo., argues that background checks need to be extended to private sales since 80 percent of guns found at crime scenes were sold privately. Photo by Mary Jo Brooks.

But longtime gun rights supporter Greg Brophy from rural Wary says the bill “won’t improve safety one iota” and that the outcomes of the bill would be absurd. He worried that he himself could be jailed for loaning a hunting rifle to a longtime friend if the bill was adopted. Carroll said that was a “legitimately absurd” argument and that the only people affected by the bill are ones who can’t pass a background check.

Debate on the gun bills was expected to continue well into the night, with final consideration to take place on Monday. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper called for universal background checks in his state-of-the-state speech earlier this year, but has not firmly endorsed any of the other bills.