State Senate ready to OK bill voiding ordinances in Denver and other cities
By Julia C. Martinez
Denver Post Capitol Bureau
Thursday, February 20, 2003 - Denver laws that ban the possession of concealed firearms would be thrown out under a sweeping gun measure given preliminary approval Wednesday by the state Senate.
All other local gun laws across Colorado that "prohibit the sale, purchase or possession of a firearm" when they are otherwise lawful under state and federal law also would be revoked by the bill.
Vail's law prohibiting assault weapons, Wheat Ridge's law against bringing a firearm to a city park, Sterling's law that bans shooting guns in cemeteries and Boulder's law against carrying guns to City Council meetings could be among the local ordinances swept away.
The bill supported by the Senate on Wednesday was a rewritten version of a measure that had passed a committee and took observers by surprise.
It targets laws that don't apply statewide which deal with the "sale, purchase or possession of a firearm," specifically concealed-weapons ordinances. It passed by a voice vote Wednesday and is scheduled for a final, recorded Senate vote today.
Federal laws banning guns in federal facilities and airports would remain intact, as would all statewide gun laws. Some of Colorado's laws prohibit guns at racetracks and airports, on school grounds and in the state Capitol.
The Senate action shocked anti-gun activists who thought the measure did not have enough support to pass and who fear that it could result in a proliferation of guns in Denver.
Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said the city will take whatever action is necessary to prevent the weakening of the city's home-rule authority.
"We will do everything legally in our power to uphold our constitutional rights and to assure we can continue to protect citizens of our city," Webb said.
The bill's Republican sponsor, Sen. Jim Dyer, said the measure is meant to standardize the laws on the books and do away with the patchwork of laws that vary from one county to the next.
The bill would ensure that Denver does not prohibit the possession of guns, although it would be able to "regulate" them, Dyer said.
Denver is not an "island of independence," he added, noting that law-abiding citizens who legally carry guns should not fear arrest if they drive into Denver with a gun.
"This bill says that local governments can't regulate to the point where they prohibit the sale, purchase and possession of guns," said Dyer, whose Littleton district suffered through the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.
Current state law allows counties to have their own concealed-weapons laws. All counties except Denver allow people to obtain permits to carry concealed handguns if they pass a background check. Denver currently prohibits the carrying of concealed guns.
The bill given initial approval Wednesday also sets the stage for a separate statewide concealed-weapons measure that is expected to pass the legislature and be signed into law this year.
Sen. Ken Gordon, a Denver Democrat, said Dyer's bill was aimed squarely at Denver's laws and especially at its concealed-carry law.
"The intent of this bill is to not allow Denver to have the constitutional authority to regulate guns in Denver," said Gordon, who voted against the measure.
Denver's gun laws are viewed as the strictest in the state. They say people cannot "carry, use or wear firearms" or carry a gun concealed.
Webb said he will not stand for gang members or anyone else besides law enforcement having access to guns at public functions, church activities and sporting events in Denver.
"We think the state should not undermine the ability of a home-rule city to set out their own laws," said Webb. "I was hopeful that the legislature would not go to the extremes of undermining local government. I'm still hopeful that cooler, less extreme positions will be taken by the legislature."
If the bill wins final approval in the Senate, it is expected to sail through the more conservative House and it would then be left to Gov. Bill Owens to veto it or sign it into law.
Most Democrats argued that the bill was a blanket pre-emption of local gun laws. But Democratic Sen. Bob Hagedorn of Aurora, who voted for the bill, said the measure only prevents local governments from having laws that "prohibit" the sale, purchase or possession.
"It still allows, in my opinion, home-rule cities to regulate the sale, purchase or possession of guns," Hagedorn said. "They just can't ban them."
Anti-gun groups and supporters of local control were quick to respond.
"This bill would strip the power of cities to protect their own citizens," said Cynthia Stone, spokeswoman for Colorado Ceasefire, a political advocacy group opposed to legislation it believes would put more guns on the streets.
"It looks like someone could drive through Denver with a high-powered rifle sitting in the front seat of their car," she said.
"Does this mean that we can no longer adopt policies regulating firearms in the workplace, prohibiting guns in bars, zoning and related restrictions on the location of retail stores selling firearms as examples?" asked Sam Mamet of the Colorado Municipal League, which strongly objected to the bill.
Most Democratic lawmakers were scrambling to try to figure out how to change or overturn the measure when the bill comes up for final consideration.
Senate Democratic leader Joan Fitz-Gerald, D-Golden, said she was surprised that none of the Republicans spoke in favor of local control.
"You're treating guns like any other commodity. It's like the ... Avon Lady," said Fitz-Gerald. "We might have to let the governor decide whether local communities will have the ability to restrict where guns are carried or sold for the health and safety of our citizens."