By IVAN MORENO and KRISTEN WYATT
DENVER — A series of sweeping gun-control measures in Colorado is on track to hit the governor’s desk by the end of the month, with Democratic committees in the Legislature advancing all the bills despite a Capitol packed with hundreds of opponents and surrounded by cars circling the Capitol blaring their horns.
Gun limits including expanded background checks and ammunition magazine limits were helped Monday by testimony from the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and victims of mass shootings in Connecticut and suburban Denver.
Colorado has become a focus point in the national debate over what new laws, if any, are needed to prevent gun violence after recent mass shootings, including an attack at an Aurora movie theater last summer – a massacre that brought to mind the Columbine High School shooting of 1999 for many in the state and across the nation.
The seven gun-control measures cleared their committees on 3-2 party-line votes and are planned for debate by the full Senate by Friday. Four of the seven have already cleared the House, making it possible some of them will land on the desk of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper within weeks.
“I think they’ll all pass. I really do,” said Democratic Senate President John Morse. “And I think they all should pass. I think any of them failing doesn’t make Colorado as safe as we could make Colorado.”
A biplane flying above the Capitol Monday warned the governor, “HICK: DO NOT TAKE OUR GUNS!” Hickenlooper backs expanded background checks and has said he’s considering a bill to limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. He hasn’t indicated where he stands on other measures, including whether he supports a proposal that would hold sellers and owners of assault weapons liable for shootings by such firearms.
Gun rights supporters walked the Capitol halls wearing stickers that read, “I Vote Pro-Gun.” Several dozen people outside the Capitol waved American flags as light snow fell.
Inside, retired astronaut and Navy captain Mark Kelly told lawmakers that he and his wife, Giffords, support the Second Amendment, but he said the right to bear arms shouldn’t extend to criminals and the mentally ill.
Kelly compared the different background check requirements for private and retail sales with having two different lines at the airport, one with security and one without.
“Which one do you think the terrorist is going to choose?” he asked.
Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman from Tucson, Ariz., was severely wounded in a mass shooting in January 2011 while meeting with constituents.
Gun control opponents say the proposals will not reduce violence. They say lawmakers should focus on strengthening access to mental health services for people who could be dangerous to communities.
The bill hearings were at times testy, and included some outbursts from the audience. After one bill passed, someone leaving the committee yelled “That sucks!” to lawmakers.
“I’ve never seen such unprofessional behavior,” Democratic Sen. Irene Aguilar told the audience at one point.
The commotion at the Capitol underscored the attention the debate has generated nationally from gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association, to victims’ families and White House officials.
One of the nation’s largest producers of ammunition magazines, Colorado-based Magpul, has threatened to leave the state if lawmakers restrict the size of its products. Its founder said smaller magazines can be easily connected to each other and the company fears it would be legally liable if people were to do that.
Victims who have lost relatives to gun violence say it’s time for legislators to take action.
Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was among the 12 killed in the Aurora theater shooting, was among the people urging lawmakers to pass magazine restrictions.
“He was enjoying the movie one second, and then the next second he was dead,” Tom Sullivan said.
Jane Dougherty, whose sister, Mary Sherlach, was a psychologist killed in the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., has been lobbying Colorado lawmakers to pass new gun laws. She said she doesn’t understand gun owners who worry the bills are putting a burden on their rights.
She said the Connecticut shooter used “the same type of weapon that we use in war” to “slaughter these babies” and asked lawmakers for stricter gun laws.
“We cannot wait for yet another massacre to transpire,” Dougherty said.