The first of three new gun safety bills, in part a response to the March 22 shooting at the south Boulder King Soopers, was approved on a party-line 7-4 vote by the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday evening.

House Bill 1298 would change state law on background checks for firearms transfers as well as close what’s known as the Charleston loophole. That refers to the 2015 shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, which resulted in the murders of nine African-American parishioners. The shooter obtained a firearm without a background check, because under South Carolina law — which is Colorado's, too — if a background check doesn’t come back within three days the dealer has to transfer the firearm to the buyer without it.

Bill sponsor Rep. Judy Amabile, a Boulder Democrat whose district includes the King Soopers, read off the names of the massacre victims. All were killed on March 22, she said, “but their fate was sealed six days before, when the shooter passed a background check and purchased a gun. The time to stop this person wasn’t at the King Soopers; it was before he bought the gun,” she said.

Under HB 1298, those with convictions for violent misdemeanors will not be able to buy a gun for five years after the conviction. The suspect in the Boulder King Soopers had been convicted of third-degree assault, a misdemeanor, three years before he purchased the firearm, according to witness testimony.

“This bill won’t stop every crime; no bill will do that,” Amabile said. But it has enormous potential to make a real difference, she added.

Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician at UC Davis Medical Center and director of the state-funded firearm violence research center, presented data on risk factors for criminal activity tied to firearms purchases. He said that those with violent misdemeanors are nine times more likely to commit more serious crimes. He also pointed out that California enacted the portion of HB 1298 on barring gun sales for those with convictions of violent misdemeanors, and they report a 25% reduction in the risk of arrest or crimes involving firearms.

Joel Loomis is a student at CU-Boulder and worked as a closing cashier at the south Boulder King Soopers. On March 21, he visited the store, talking to a friend, coworker and boss, Rikki Olds. She had time only for hello. The next time he saw her, it was a video of her body on the floor of the King Soopers.

“Apparently there are no safe places from the horror of gun violence,” Loomis told the committee. “I lost more than 3 coworkers and friends on March 22, I lost my sense of safety. I’m afraid and I don’t want to be.”

Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver said the losses wounded his community.

“I could not have imagined attending so many funerals,” he said.

Among those in opposition, Michael Stapleton said the legislature was committing “malpractice." There is no law and no legislation that can be done to stop this, he told the committee.

Taylor Rhodes, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, whose members and supporters played large roles in fighting against the background check law passed in 2013, also testified. He had a warning for lawmakers: pass this bill and the RMGO SuperPAC will work next year to hold those elected officials accountable. 

This bill “shows how out of touch this body is with the gun community,” Rhodes told the committee. He pointed to a 2018 Department of Justice report on background checks. That report, Rhodes said, showed 25.6 million firearms background checks in 2017. Of those, 112,000 were denied; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms followed up on about 12,000. Only 12 were prosecuted by district attorneys, which he said proves that background checks are ineffective.

Dan Neilson of Pueblo County said he does not diminish the carnage.

“We don’t talk about hammers or knives. My Second Amendment right is being infringed upon, and I don’t think this legislature will ever get a handle on violence. Step by step, inch by inch, you’re trying to suffocate something you will never get a handle on,” he said.

Neilson suggested the legislature address mental health and that people should teach their children that firearms are not dangerous if handled properly.

Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs, said that her problems with HB 1298 are that crimes that do not include an act of violence — such as cruelty to animals or crimes against an at-risk person — could be the basis for denying a gun purchase. She also had concerns about the retroactive nature tied to the convictions, which would bar someone from buying a gun for five years.

HB 1298 now heads to the full House for debate. The second of the three gun-related bills, setting up a state Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Department of Public Health and Environment, is scheduled for its first hearing on Friday.

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