State Republicans set up three gun-rights bills Thursday only to have them shot down by Democrats in a House of Representatives committee -- again.
The process has, in recent years, turned into an informal annual tradition that representatives and witnesses alike referenced throughout their testimony, even joking about it at times. Several quipped that they’ll surely be back next year.
“It’s not the first time I’ve brought this to you,” Minority Leader Rep. Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, told the House Committee on State, Veterans, and Military Affairs during the afternoon meeting.
“It won’t be the last.”
Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, perhaps best encapsulated the barrage of opposition Republicans heard throughout hours of testimony by saying this: "If more guns were the answer, we would be the safest country in the world,” Lontine said. “And we’re obviously not the safest country in the world.”
The committee voted each bill down along party lines.
The first of the three measures -- proposed by Neville -- would have allowed most people with concealed carry permits to carry a weapon on public school grounds.
The second -- proposed by Rep. Stephen Humphrey, R-Eaton, and Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono -- would have repealed a 2013 state ban on ammunition magazines that can hold more than 15 rounds.
And the third -- proposed by Rep. Shane Sandridge, R-Colorado Springs -- would have allowed business owners, managers and employees to use deadly force against intruders in their businesses.
Testimony throughout the day was sometimes emotional. Victims of mass shootings, their friends and their family members spoke mostly in opposition of the gun rights measures.
Two stood out, both of whom said they were high school students in 1999 when two fellow students at Columbine High School killed 12 teenage students and a teacher. And both supported Neville’s concealed-carry bill.
“As the two murderers made their way into the library … I was the first one targeted,” said Evan Todd, one of the two Columbine victims who testified. He said he was shot and choked up as he recalled hearing and watching others as they were murdered.
An armed hero might have changed the outcome, Todd said. Instead, removing weapons from schools heightens the risk of more school shootings.
“I do not believe we’ve seriously taken into consideration how we protect and defend our children in our schools,” he said. “All the gun-free zone does is paint a target on our children, our teachers, our faculty. And it’s absurd.”
A third former Columbine student, Neville, who was 15 during the shooting, said now he’s forced to consider the risks his two young daughters face every day.
“I’m tired of sending them to school on the blind faith that they’re just going to return home safely,” he said.
But others called the bill risky and a dangerous experiment in school safety with no supporting data. One woman noted that no educational organizations had been consulted on the legislation, nor were any of their representatives supporting the bill.
Jean Fredlund, representing Colorado’s League of Women Voters, said that a Colorado lawmaker once left a briefcase in the statehouse with a gun inside. That scenario could play out again, but inside a school, she said.
Thursday’s testimony was the seventh time Fredlund said she spoke against the bill. "We’ll keep at it."
Rep. Jovan Melton recalled hearing this bill in years past and refuted arguments in favor.
“We don’t expect police officers to teach math and science, so why do we expect teachers to keep the peace?” Melton said.
The remaining two bills met the same fate as Neville’s.
Many of the same witnesses testified during each hearing. About twice as many spoke out against the new laws as spoke for them.
Some of those supporting the laws spoke on behalf of gun rights organizations. Among them were representatives of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. Proponents argued that higher-volume gun magazines don’t necessarily result in more deaths during mass shootings and that business owners and employees have a right to protect themselves in their places of work.
Opponents, however, argued that there is no realistic need for gun owners to have more than 15 bullets at a time. Others said the deadly force bill is far more likely to result in innocent deaths than the prevention of legitimate crimes.
And it was that bill that left a mark on Melton.
“I’ve heard this bill a number of times,” he said. “This is honestly one of the scariest bills I see each year, on a personal basis. And that is because for me, as an African American male, implicit bias is real.”
Melton recalled the days before he was sworn in during his freshman year as a legislator. He had neither a name tag nor an identifying pin when he entered an elevator with an unfamiliar white woman, he said.
“When I got onto the elevator, she snatched her purse,” Melton said. “Had your bill been in statute, she would have been justified to think that I was going to cause her reasonable harm, based on what I saw her reaction to be. ... For myself, for other African Americans, for other people of color, when we see a bill like this come before us, it does cause us concern. We’re not always viewed as being safe.
"We sometimes can cause fear, whether justified or not.”