Vail Valley Voices: Why I voted for prudent gun legislation
February 22, 2013
I represent all of my constituents and work hard to be balanced and objective. I listen carefully and respectfully to all arguments, points of view, and data. I strive to balance everyone’s rights. That is the job you hired me to do.
These gun safety bills we voted on this week aim to reduce and, hopefully, prevent violence by criminals who use guns to inflict injury or death on Colorado resident.
HB 1224 prohibits the sale, transfer or possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds or more than eight shotgun shells. Individuals who now own such magazines may continue to legally possess them. There is no limitation on the number of magazines someone may own.
HB 1226 creates an exception to current law. The bill eliminates the authority of a concealed permit holder to possess a concealed handgun on any college campus. Current statute allows a person with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry in all areas of the state, with exception of government buildings and K-12 schools. This bill expands that exception to include college campuses, as was the practice until 2011.
HB 1228 eliminates the taxpayer-funded subsidy for background checks on current gun purchases and transfers. The bill would charge $10-$12 per transaction (one transaction may include more than one firearm) to be used solely for the operation of the Colorado Bureau of Investigation Instant Background Check program.
HB 1229 closes the background check loophole that allowed private transfers and sales of firearms to go without a background check. This simply expands the background checks we conduct on anyone purchasing a gun at a shop or at a gun show to private sales. There are several exclusions in the bill. These exclusions include, but are not limited to, transfers among family members, estate executors, members of a hunting party and target shooters.
Before I explain my votes on these four bills, let me speak to our rights under the full Bill of Rights and especially the Second Amendment. Both the U.S. Constitution and the Colorado Constitution establish the right to bear arms in defense of home and country against crime and tyranny.
These bills do not infringe on this right. These bills do not prevent people who now can legally purchase and possess firearms under current law from bearing arms. These bills do not establish a registry.
I believe in the Second Amendment and in all of our rights. I also recognize that all of our rights have had constitutional limits placed on them, from the First Amendment through the 10th and the 14th. I believe that a vote for closing the background check loophole is a vote that does uphold the Second Amendment.
As Justice Antonin Scalia pointed out in the Heller v. D.C. decision, “Like most rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited.”
Rates of violent crime have declined since the 1960s. Criminologists agree that demographic changes in the age structure of our society are the key cause.
However, we have seen an increase in mass shootings, gang shootings and suicide rates committed with a gun. Suicide is a particular issue in our district.
Our mental health system is inadequately funded and has become less able to provide basic care at the same time as a variety of mental illnesses.
It is important to recognize that some criminals who engage in aggravated assault or homicide with a gun are not mentally ill, according to the currently accepted diagnostic categories.
With that in mind, it is important to note that the majority of mass shooters have been professionally diagnosed as mentally ill.
I would propose that we convene a series of meetings and workshops to deeply examine all evidence on causes of violence in our society.
Then, together, we may be able to develop a fuller array of solutions that will reduce violence of all kinds, including acts of violence that use guns.
Now, to the bills.
HB 1224: Limit magazines to 15 rounds, eight shotgun shells.
I voted yes after considering all of the evidence and testimony. Here is why: I heard testimony from my constituents who target shoot with semiautomatic weapons and constituents who own semiautomatic handguns because they are concerned with personal safety.
Both of those sets of constituents (those concerned with safety as well as target shooters) said that 10 round magazines were adequate for their needs, and they keep multiple magazines and know how to change them quickly.
This bill limits the size of magazines that an individual may purchase. It does not limit the number of such magazines that a gun owner may purchase or own.
Law enforcement officials, including the police chiefs, in House District 26 supported this measure, as well.
Many of the mass shooters in the past few years have used 30-round, 52-round and 100-round magazines.
In at least two instances, bystanders were able to tackle or shoot the criminal mass shooter when he was changing magazines. That one- to two-second period saved lives.
One reason the police chiefs support this law is because in some instances, they are outgunned and, if you will, out magazined.
No bill can completely prevent criminals from injuring or killing people with a gun.
However, this bill will help to save lives in the future.
HB 1226: No concealed carry on a college campus.
I strongly support this bill.
I was a tenure track assistant professor at the University of Arizona-Tucson for four years; a tenure track, then tenured associate professor at CSU Fort Collins for 11 years; and then a professor at Colorado Mountain College for 11 years.
Guns were not allowed on campuses during my 26 years as a tenure track and tenured professor.
Only in 2011 did concealed carry become allowed at CU. I believe that allowing concealed weapons on campuses is contrary in every way to the vision and mission of any institution of higher education.
Students and faculty deserve a safe environment in which to learn, discuss, debate and consider all of the evidence.
The sad fact is that alcohol abuse and drug abuse are very common among college students 21 years old or older.
I encountered drunk or drugged students on many occasions who were sometimes very belligerent and threatening to other students who disagreed with them in the classroom. I shudder to think about how such high emotions could be accompanied by violence with guns in the college classroom.
Suicide is a serious problem on college campuses. Suicides attempted with a gun are far more likely to succeed, and studies show access to guns significantly increases the chances of suicide fatality.
HB 1228 (Fee for Background Checks): I voted against this bill.
I do not believe that someone should have to pay a fee to exercise a right conferred in the Bill of Rights.
HB 1229 (Closing background check loophole):
I support background checks for all gun transactions.
It is critical to have background checks on personal transfers to protect us from those who should not have a gun from getting one, such as a criminal, domestic violence offender or a person who is mentally ill, and would not be able to get a gun under current law from a licensed firearms dealer or from a gun show.
This bill can protect us from the person who cannot pass a background check.
It does not and cannot establish a registry. That is illegal under federal law.
Records of successful NICS checks are destroyed within 24 hours.
Some have argued that heritage and liberties would be killed by this bill. I believe that this bill helps us to uphold our rights, our heritage and our liberty to be secure in our homes and communities by helping to prevent people who should not have guns from getting them.
I have listened to and read a variety of positions, points of view and data.
After considering all of the testimony, I tried to balance Second Amendment rights with public safety and the very basic right to live.
No legislation will prevent all acts of violence, with or without a gun, but I have come to believe that HB 1224, HB 1226 and HB 1229 will save lives and prevent injury while still enabling citizens to bear arms.
Diane Mitsch Bush, D-Steamboat, represents Eagle County in the state House of Representatives.