A pair of mass shootings over the weekend in Texas and Ohio that left more than 30 dead reignited the national debate about gun violence and how to prevent it.
One of the suggestions being floated once again is a federal universal background check for gun purchases and transfers. Thousands of private gun sales have been stopped in Colorado since the state enacted universal background checks in 2013, a year after the deadly Aurora theater shooting.
“Republicans and Democrats must come together and get strong background checks,” President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter early Monday morning.
Democrats in the U.S. House this year already have passed a bill that would make background checks universal for gun purchases. The legislation is awaiting debate in the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
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Since Colorado’s law was enacted in 2013, adding online gun sales and transfers between private parties to the list of firearm transactions requiring a background check, the overall number of potential buyers rejected from making a purchase has not dramatically risen.
(Colorado voters already required background checks for gun-show firearm sales in the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.)
A Colorado Sun analysis of the CBI numbers between 2009 and 2019 shows that the percentage of checks resulting in a rejected purchase has fluctuated from a low of 1.81% in 2017 to a high of 2.56% in 2010.
So far in 2019, data through June shows that 2.11% of background checks have resulted in a rejected purchase. Of the 164,967 background checks run in Colorado during that span, 3,477 resulted in rejections.
That being said, since the 2013 law went into effect, more than 2,000 private sales have been rejected after a background check, according to Colorado Bureau of Investigation data. Those were transfers that would have gone through if it weren’t for the 2013 law.
And each year since 2009 in Colorado at least 5,400 sales, and as many as 8,700, have been stopped by background checks.
Denver District Attorney Beth McCann, who was the lead sponsor on Colorado’s 2013 universal background check bill when she was a Democratic state representative, says it can be hard to measure the law’s broad impact, but the scores of people stopped from obtaining a gun are proof that it’s working.
“Do we know how many shootings we may have averted because of that? Of course not, we don’t know,” McCann said Monday. “But I very much think that having universal background checks is critically important.”
McCann said it’s also unclear how many people decided not to even pursue a gun purchase given the expanded background checks.
“What possible reason could there be for not having everyone who buys a gun to go through a universal background check?” she said.
Trump on Monday also endorsed considering so-called “red flag” laws on the federal level. Such laws allow a judge to order the seizure of firearms from someone found to be a significant risk to themselves or others.
“We must make sure that those judged to pose a great risk to public safety do not have access to firearms and that if they do those firearms can be taken through rapid due process,” Trump said.
Colorado passed red flag legislation this year, and it’s slated to start being used in 2020, but it went into effect without the support of a single Republican state lawmaker.
In fact, GOP statehouse members are suing to block Colorado’s red flag law from going into effect, arguing that Democrats didn’t follow proper procedure as the measure made its way through the Capitol. There was also an effort by conservatives to recall one of the Democratic state lawmakers who championed the bill, state Rep. Tom Sullivan of Centennial.
Sullivan’s son, Alex, was one of 12 people killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting.
Finally, there is an effort to oust Republican Douglas County Sheriff Tony Spurlock, the most notable GOP voice who supported Colorado’s red flag law.
Colorado-based Rocky Mountain Gun Owners attacked Trump’s support of universal background checks and red flag legislation, warning of political consequences for Republicans who follow his lead.
“Now we have Republicans and Democrats pushing for gun control,” said Dudley Brown, who heads the hard-line gun-rights group.
Former Republican state Sen. Greg Brophy, a fierce gun rights proponent who helped lead the fight against Democrats’ 2013 gun laws, was less worried.
“I trust that (Trump) will support legislative ideas that actually make a difference but won’t infringe upon our Second Amendment rights,” Brophy told The Sun. “He said today that we’re going to look at this stuff, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the stuff that makes its way through the Senate will be as horrendous as the red flag gun confiscation bill that passed through the legislature this year.”
He added: “The devil is in the details.”
Democrats at the Colorado Capitol are also pursuing tightening state laws around gun storage in the upcoming legislative session, which begins in January.
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