Back away from divisive gun debate

Much of last week was spent working on bills of mine in committee or on the Senate floor. By the end of the week, though, constituent contact regarding the gun control bills in the House was all consuming. In seven years as a state legislator, I've never received so much feedback in opposition to a set of bills, and I've seen some pretty controversial battles.

I've heard from a few supporters of these bills, but the magnitude of those in opposition is much, much greater. I've mentioned in an earlier column that I'm impressed by the thoughtfulness of those in opposition. This is helpful to me as I read through the emails to get a better sense of the perspectives in my district.

I'm hearing from former military and law enforcement officers, moms and grandparents, those who live in towns and those on ranches, each with their personal story as to why gun ownership is important to them and why the addition of these particular gun proposals won't improve public safety, but will chip away at one of their most cherished constitutional rights, the Second Amendment.

At a Cortez townhall meeting last weekend, we discussed the proposed bills. There, I stated my opposition to all four measures, which I have read and considered, each on its own merits. These bills are inadequate in terms of truly improving public safety. They will not prevent tragedies like the Aurora movie theater shooting or impact criminals. I ask why we are rushing to the "do something" approach rather than choosing to doing something meaningful.

My suggestions is this: The Colorado legislature should take a step back from the divisive and superheated debate and send the topic of improving public safety to the bipartisan Colorado Commission on Criminal and Juvenile Justice and make a top priority for that group to study what new legislation would improve public safety.

The commission continues to work on high priority and complex issues in the areas of public safety and criminal justice. Its members represent law enforcement, district attorneys, public defenders, victim rights advocates, judges, mental health providers and the public safety, prison and human services and educational state agencies. The commission works in a nonpartisan manner and focuses on evidence based data and policy approaches.

In this forum, away from Capitol politics, the commission could look at the range of issues we should be considering. Improving access to mental health services, school safety improvements and policies and gun safety issues could be considered thoroughly rather than in a compressed and highly politicized environment.

Colorado's legislature has an ideal mechanism, already in place and supported by an impressive record of working on very difficult issues facing Colorado. The members of the commission are well respected and well known in their fields and provide a healthy and diverse perspective on tough topics. The commission meetings are open to the public and are well attended by the public. Any proposals from this group would still need to be debated and voted on in the next legislative session.

It's a grave mistake to ram legislation through in any setting, by either party. Democracy works when people respect the process. Unintended consequences, especially when a fundamental constitutional right is at stake, will follow unless we take a more measured approach.

Ellen Roberts represents Senate District 6 in Colorado's General Assembly. The district encompasses Montezuma, Dolores, La Plata, Archuleta, Montrose, San Miguel, San Juan and Ouray counties. Contact Sen. Roberts by phone at (303) 866-4884, or email ellen.roberts.senate@state.co.us.

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