GOP’s 2014 gun battle appears to misfire

DENVER – The debate over guns all but ended at the state Legislature on Wednesday, and it didn’t go out with a bang.

For the third time in three days, Democrats killed Republican attempts to loosen gun laws. Attendance at the hearings steadily decreased throughout the week. It was a stark contrast to 2013, when Democratic bills to tighten gun laws attracted some of the largest crowds the Capitol had ever seen.

On Monday and Wednesday, Democrats knocked down two GOP bills to repeal last year’s 15-round limit on ammunition magazines, HB1151 and SB 100, in the State Affairs committee of each chamber. On Tuesday, the House Judiciary Committee killed a bill to let school districts arm their teachers, HB1157.

Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Windsor, said Colorado should allow school districts to decide if teachers with concealed weapons permits could bring their guns to school.

“We need to give our schools every option for protecting our children,” Humphrey said.

But Democrats said his bill wasn’t needed.

“The school districts of the state are already empowered to hire a qualified security officer to protect their children,” said Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango.

McLachlan pointed to Dove Creek schools, which decided to designate two employees as security guards and allow them to carry weapons.

However, the law McLachlan cited does not apply to charter schools. McLachlan pledged to work with Republicans to sponsor a new bill that would apply narrowly to charter schools’ ability to designate armed guards.

A Quinnipiac University poll of Colorado voters released Feb. 5 found a small majority favor arming teachers, but there was a wide gender gap. Men liked the idea 56 percent to 40 percent, while women disapproved 50 percent to 43 percent.

No matter the poll, the bill to arm teachers died after a long hearing Tuesday.

Other hearings this week seemed like replays of last year’s gun control debate at the Capitol, with many of the same witnesses, from county sheriffs who oppose limits on ammunition magazines to family members of people killed in the Aurora theater massacre.

Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, said the magazine limit would have prevented accused theater shooter James Holmes from legally buying the 100-round drum he used in his AR-15 rifle.

But the sponsor of SB100, Sen. Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, said big magazines often don’t work.

“As it turned out, it was maybe a good thing that he had a 100-round magazine, because it jammed,” Herpin said.

The comment shocked supporters of the 15-round limit, including Tom Sullivan, who testified Wednesday about his son, Alex, who died in the 2012 theater massacre.

Herpin later sought to tone down his comment.

“I certainly meant no disrespect to the families of those who died in the Aurora theater,” Herpin said.