Mike Littwin: Gun Day Monday at the Capitol, loopy but calm
February 5, 2015
It was Gun Day Monday at the state legislature, where seven gun bills — all proposed by Republicans — were up for debate. The testimony either broke your heart or made your head pound and, either way, had to make you wonder how we ever got to this place.
But now that the results are in, there is some good news: The fever may finally have broken, at least slightly.
Don’t worry about the votes. They were basically just for show. The bills all failed on the House side, where the Democrats are in control. And they passed on the Senate side, where the Republicans have taken control by one vote, basically due to victories that came with the battles over guns.
In a split legislature, the bills were doomed from the start, but that really wasn’t the point of the exercise. This was about Republicans showing that they still hadn’t gotten over the modest gun control bills that Democrats passed in 2013, and that they’ve been determined, ever since the Summer of Recall, to keep making them pay. And so we heard from gun-rights newcomers Dr. Chaps and Sen. (once Sheriff) John Cooke. And from the Nevilles, father and son. You’ll be hearing from all of them again, I promise.
But if the Republican legislators showed they still care, they didn’t exactly show that anyone else did.
Yes, the bills themselves were as extreme as ever — let’s just say that machine guns even made their way into the conversation this year. And the arguments in favor of the gun bills — my favorite is that that fees for background checks are not unlike poll taxes — were just as loopy. In fact, the poll tax comparison came up so often I half-expected to hear that Dudley Brown — of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners — was not unlike Martin Luther King.
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But the rooms where the committees held their hearings were remarkably calm. They were also not quite full.
This wasn’t a day for blaring horns or long lines of protest or even much celebration when a repeal of the private-transaction background check passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote. Of course, the exact same bill was losing on the House side. There wasn’t much of a battle — more like a faint echo of battlegrounds past, fought mostly because the fight can never seem to end.
For Republicans, though, I’d say the fewer people paying attention the better, unless they really believe people want to drop most requirements for carrying a concealed weapon or to expand the Make My Day laws to give business owners the same right as homeowners to plug away. Maybe they do. The younger Neville — who was a student at Columbine during the rampage — is proposing that anyone with a concealed-weapons permit be allowed take a gun to school.
Polling shows that 80-plus percent of Coloradans favor background checks, and Ron Sloan of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation gave the numbers to show why. There were 6,000 people — about 2 percent — who failed background checks from July 2013 to June 2014. Under the rule that criminals are nearly always stupid, some who failed were wanted for homicide, for assault, for sexual assault, for robbery, for burglary, for kidnapping. There were 98 stopped by the new law requiring checks in private sales.
The background checks don’t entirely stop gun violence, of course, but they certainly seem to slow it down. The idea is to make it harder for dangerous people to access guns. What’s the argument against? Oh, yeah, those so-called onerous fees that resemble poll taxes. At least that beats the old argument — which didn’t quite hold up — that these laws were about grabbing your guns.
But the real arguments, and the real drama, came in the testimony from those were victim to the gun massacres that still haunt us. To name a few who testified: From Columbine, there was Dave Sanders’ daughter, Coni. And from Newtown, there was Jane Dougherty, of Littleton, whose sister Mary Sherlach was killed alongside the 20 first-graders at Sandy Hook.
And from Aurora, there was Dave Hoover, who describes himself as a Republican, a gun owner, a hunter, a police officer and a victim of violence who believes “that a human life is more important than the value of a gun or the unchecked access to a tool that was designed to destroy life.” And, yes, he is AJ Boik’s uncle. Boik was killed that night at the Aurora theater, and his uncle has been fighting for stronger gun laws ever since.
Hoover has been a cop for 32 years. He has been shot at a few times and likes to joke that he didn’t appreciate any of them. But everything changed that night. After his testimony, I asked him how the change affected him.
“I had to go to the funeral parlor,” Hoover said. “I had to bring clothes for my nephew, the same clothes he wore to the prom. I had to make sure that the makeup covered the hole that the bullet had made.”
His eyes had gone red, the tears squeezed tight.
“If that doesn’t change you, I don’t know what does.”
He stops to apologize for the tears, saying, “I trip over my heart every time I tell the story,” knowing that he’ll certainly be telling it again.