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Article updated: 2/19/2013 9:38 AM

Colo. House Dems lead passage of gun control bills

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, speaks before the Colorado House as they consider her bill, HB13-1224, that prohibits large capacity ammunition magazines at the State Capitol in Denver, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. Colorado House Democrats passed new ammunition limits and expanded background checks as part of a package of bills responding to recent mass shootings.

Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, speaks before the Colorado House as they consider her bill, HB13-1224, that prohibits large capacity ammunition magazines at the State Capitol in Denver, Monday, Feb. 18, 2013. Colorado House Democrats passed new ammunition limits and expanded background checks as part of a package of bills responding to recent mass shootings.

 

Associated Press

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By Associated Press

DENVER -- Colorado's Democratic-controlled House has narrowly passed a handful of gun control bills, signaling a political shift in the wake of recent mass shootings and pressure from the White House.

"Enough is enough. I'm sick and tired of bloodshed," said Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields, who sponsored a bill limiting the size of ammunition magazines. Fields, whose son was fatally shot in 2005, represents the district where a gunman opened fire at a suburban Denver movie theater last summer.

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The bill was among four that the legislative chamber passed Monday amid strong resistance from Republicans, who were joined by a few Democrats. The ammunition restrictions measure passed 34-31 after three Democrats joined all Republicans voting no.

House lawmakers began debating Friday, when Vice President Joe Biden called four Democrats to solidify support for the measures. Two were in moderate districts.

Castle Rock Republican Rep. Carole Murray made a reference to the calls on Monday, saying she didn't appreciate "East Coast politicians" trying to influence Colorado legislators.

The House also approved bills requiring background checks on all gun purchases, including those between private sellers and firearms bought online; a ban on concealed firearms at colleges and stadiums; and a requirement that gun purchasers pay for their own background checks. The ammunition restrictions measure would limit magazines to 15 rounds for firearms, and eight for shotguns.

The background check measure passed 33-32 in the closest vote of the four.

Republicans argued that the proposals restrict Second Amendment rights and won't prevent mass shootings like the ones in Aurora and a Connecticut elementary school.

"This bill will never keep evil people from doing evil things," said Republican Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg.

Republicans also said students should have the right to defend themselves.

"Do not disarm our young adults in general and our young women in particular on our college campuses in the name of a gun-free zone," Republican Rep. Jim Wilson said.

The debate highlighted a fundamental philosophical difference between many Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats' leader in the House, Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, said he resented "the implication that unless we all arm ourselves, we will not be adequately protected."

But one of the Democrats who voted against party lines, Democratic Rep. Ed Vigil, said that his decision was rooted in the state's history.

"This is part of our heritage. This is part of what it took to settle this land. I cannot turn my back on that," he said.

Vigil's decision represents some of the hold that history has on the West, which a political generation ago swung to the right.

But the vote Monday in Colorado's gun control debate is part of the shift in the region's politics to the left, including the legalization of marijuana in Washington state and Colorado. Washington also upheld the legality of gay marriage in November.

Democratic Rep. Dominick Moreno, who represents a district in suburban Denver and was among the four lawmakers called by Biden, said the vice president "emphasized the importance of Colorado's role in shaping national policy around this issue."

Democrats in the Colorado House have a 37-28 advantage, giving them enough leeway when some members of their party side with Republicans. The gun control measures go next to the state Senate, where Democrats will need more unified support because their advantage is only 20-15. Republicans need only three Democrats to join them to defeat the bills.

The state's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, supports the expanded background checks and thinks gun buyers should pay for them. He also said he may support limits on the size of magazines, if lawmakers agree to a number between 15 and 20.

He said he hasn't decided whether to support banning concealed firearms on campuses and stadiums.

Republican Rep. Christ Holbert became emotional while explaining his opposition to the bills. He said he understood Fields' support of the bills, given her district and her son's shooting death.

"But I care passionately about the United States Constitution and the constitution of this state, and the oath that we have taken," Holbert said.

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