First, however, they have to get past the state senate, where the margin of Democrats to Republicans is, at 20-15, tighter than in the house, where it is 37-28, a consequence of the November election when Republicans lost their one-vote majority in that body. It's not known whether Vice President Joe Biden will call selected senators to urge them to pass the measures as he did with three freshmen state representatives and Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.
The measures would limit the number of rounds in gun magazines to 15, bar concealed firearms from college campuses, expand background checks to all gun sales and transfers, and require gun owners to pay $5-$12 for those checks. Exempted from the checks are sales of antique guns and gifts of guns to immediate family members.
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation handles the background checks. In most of 2012, it took an average of 23 minutes for a background check to determine whether a prospective gun buyer had a criminal or mental health record that barred her or him from obtaining a firearm. After the 12/14 Newtown, Connecticut, massacre, however, gun buying surged and the CBI was swamped. The waiting period for completion of the checks grew to seven days. That prompted the bureau to seek half a million extra dollars to clear the checks faster. And those gun checks were only for sales by federally licensed dealers, not the private sales that the new legislation require to be covered.
Asking gun buyers to pay for their own background checks, the way they pay for, say, a driver's license, could be a deal-breaker in the Colorado Senate. The background checks—supported by 80 percent of Coloradans, according to a survey by Project New America and pollster Chris Keating—were approved by a party-line vote of 36-29. But making gun buyers pay for them squeaked by on a single vote, 33-32.
The measures must also get the signature of Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. He supports background checks and buyers paying for them and might support a limit on magazine capacity if the count is 15 to 20. But he is said to be undecided on whether concealed guns should be banned from campuses.
Only four states now limit magazine capacity to 10 rounds. That was what Democratic Rep. Rhonda Fields originally proposed for Colorado. Her son was shot to death in 2005. She represents the district where James Holmes opened fire in a crowded Aurora theater last July, killing 12 and wounding 58. One of his weapons was fed by a 100-round drum magazine. One legislator Biden called was Democratic Rep. Mike McLachlan, who represents a district in southwestern Colorado. It was he who introduced the amendment to raise the capacity limit to 15, saying that was adequate for self defense.
Ed Vigil, a Democrat representing a rural south-central Colorado district, who broke ranks on the magazine capacity bill and voted with Republicans against it, argued at one point: "This is part of our heritage. This is part of what it took to settle this land. I cannot turn my back on that." None of the guns used in that "settling," which drove the Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians out of Colorado and the Utes onto reservations, could fire more than 16 rounds without reloading.