Colorado Senate Republicans: Still a 'NO' on banning bump stocks, but yes to RMGO money

FILE - In this Oct. 4, 2017 file photo, a little-known device called a bump stock is attached to a semi-automatic rifle at the Gun Vault store and shooting range in South Jordan, Utah. Massachusetts is on its way to becoming the first state since the Las Vegas shooting massacre to outlaw devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to mimic fully automatic guns. The Massachusetts Senate voted 33-0 on Thursday, Oct. 12, to ban the sale of bump stocks and trigger cranks, attachments that increase the firing rate of a weapon. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

The Trump administration is OK with a ban on bump stocks. The Florida Legislature, despite opposition from the National Rifle Association, last week approved a package of gun control measures, including a ban on bump stocks that increase the firing capacity of normal rifles.

Colorado’s state Senate is a week away from hearing a bill that would take the same step. But it won’t pass here, according to Senate Republican leadership. And they’re backed by several gun rights groups that all oppose bump stock bans, and which have been generous with Senate Republicans.

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert of Parker told reporters Monday that banning bump stocks is an issue for the federal government to deal with, since it could apply nationwide.

According to the Washington Post, a bump stock is a piece of plastic or metal “molded to the lower end of a rifle. The device allows a shooter to fire dozens of rounds in seconds by harnessing the gun’s natural recoil.” Combined with a high-capacity magazine, the rifle can then fire between 60 and 100 rounds in rapid succession. A bump stock was used by a shooter in Las Vegas last October, in a massacre that took the lives of 58 people and injured more than 800 people.

Holbert said that as with a 2013 ban on ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds, when a state bans certain items, it becomes problematic because people can buy those parts in other states. He pointed to the murder of Douglas County Deputy Zackari Parrish who was killed in an ambush on Dec. 31. Holbert said the killer had purchased ammunition magazines in Wyoming.

Gun rights groups in Colorado, most notably the NRA and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, also are opposed to bump stock bans and in Colorado, they’ve been very generous with Republican lawmakers and at least one like-minded group.

The libertarian-leaning Independence Institute is a top recipient of NRA grants, according to an Associated Press analysis of the NRA Foundation’s public tax records. The think tank received $241,000 from the foundation in 2016, the last year for which data is available. Between 2013 and 2016, the AP analysis showed the think tank took in a total of $909,500 from the NRA Foundation.

The size of the Independence Institute’s 2016 grant made Colorado the state with the fourth-largest amount of NRA donations, with $293,000 in grants. That places it only behind two much larger states — California and Texas — and North Carolina, home to Speedway Children’s Charities, which has received the largest NRA donation at $425,000. Most of the NRA foundation’s money goes to schools. However, the Denver Public Schools recently announced it would no longer take NRA grants.

The Independence Institute has a long history in Colorado politics and is a prominent advocate of gun rights positions. Its research director, Dave Kopel, has written numerous law review articles defending gun rights and filed friend of court briefs supporting firearms owners and groups. Kopel spoke out in opposition to a Denver City Council ban on bump stocks in January. He told the Denver Post that bump stocks should be regulated like machine guns, with a strict system of federal regulation rather than prohibiting them outright.

“It would make sense that America’s oldest civil rights organization, the NRA, would support our work,” said Mike Krause of the institute, to the AP. “Indeed, we would like to think we are the most vocal and principled defender of the Second Amendment, and of the human right of self-defense, in Colorado.”

The NRA did not respond to the AP’s request for a comment.

The NRA isn’t a big donor to Colorado state lawmakers, preferring to put its dollars into congressional campaigns. U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, an Aurora Republican, has been the top recipient of NRA contributions among Colorado’s current congressional delegation, taking in more than $33,000 since 2010.

When state lawmakers get money from gun rights groups, it comes from Dudley Brown’s Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, which has strong ties to the Neville family: Republican Senator Tim, of Littleton; son and House Republican Leader Patrick, of Castle Rock; and his brother Joe, who has worked for RMGO and Brown’s National Association for Gun Rights in the past.

RMGO has put $367,000 into various campaign committees since 2010, backing Republicans and/or opposing Democrats. The group has been generous with Senate Republicans, with donations ranging from $500 to $4,000 to Sens. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, John Cooke of Greeley, Larry Crowder of Alamosa, Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, Kevin Priola of Henderson, Neville and Holbert.

RMGO’s largest spending, however, has been through an independent expenditure committee, which in 2016 alone spent $163,000 on electioneering pieces to back Republican candidates, mostly for the state Senate. Since 2010, the independent expenditure committee has spent $340,000 on electioneering communications.

Both RMGO and the National Association for Gun Rights are opposed to the bump stock ban proposed by Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield of Colorado Springs. The bill is scheduled to be heard next Monday for the Senate’s “kill committee” — the State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee — where legislation that isn’t liked by the majority is assigned to be voted down.

On the gun control side, the largest donor to statewide candidates, based on a search of the Secretary of State’s TRACER system, is Colorado Ceasefire, although former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has also been generous in Colorado. Bloomberg put $375,000 in 2013 into fighting the recall of two Democratic senators: then-Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo. Since 2013, however, Bloomberg’s donations have dropped off; he made just two donation, of $200 each, in 2016 and 2015, to Democratic Sens. Lois Court of Denver and Rhonda Fields of Aurora, respectively.

Colorado Ceasefire has been a more reliable source of dollars for Democrats, but at a much lower level, with about $75,000 in contributions since 2010 to Democratic candidates. Of that $75,000, just over $29,000 went to electioneering communications to oppose Republican candidates.

Merrifield has accepted three donations of $200 each from Colorado Ceasefire since 2014. But Merrifield, who previously worked for Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has never taken a single contribution from the billionaire former mayor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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