Opinion: Gun bills draw local participation in western Colorado
Free Press Opinion Columnist
Some of my best memories of 2014 come from the trips my friends and I took to Denver last winter to testify in legislative hearings. We testified against a bill that would have allowed teachers and lunch ladies to carry guns in schools, and in favor of another addressing reproductive freedom.
We were lucky in our travels, as the worst winter weather we experienced was an icy patch on Interstate 70 — just long enough to elicit a squeal from one of my passengers. That was the trip where my “service engine” light came on before we’d even left Mesa County. Not wanting to worry anyone, this is the first time I’m mentioning it.
Thanks to a new law allowing people residing far from Denver to provide remote testimony, participating in the legislative process is now as simple for Mesa County residents as driving to Colorado Mesa University. We had our first opportunity to participate in this pilot program on Feb. 2.
There were about a half-dozen bills available for remote testimony that day, including one which would repeal a Colorado background-check law and another to eliminate conceal-carry rules. Those were presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where I was among the first Coloradans with the opportunity to testify remotely.
With five gun bills being introduced that day, huge crowds were expected at the State Capitol for rallies and testimonies from gun sense groups and the National Rifle Association. We were warned that testimony could go as late as 11 p.m. With Mesa County’s reputed disdain for law and government, especially gun regulations, it was a perfect opportunity for Mesa County voters to demonstrate just how serious we are about the issue.
Expecting that things could get contentious, those of us testifying in favor of background checks and open-carry licenses wondered what type of security would be provided. Would there be someone to stop hecklers and to make sure there were no guns in the room?
Last year, I’d left home six hours ahead of time to get to Denver, but this time I left 20 minutes before the hearings started with the intention of arriving 10 minutes early. When I arrived a few minutes later than anticipated, I was surprised to discover that I’d missed nothing at all and there were still plenty of seats available.
Mesa County’s infamous gun brigade was nowhere to be seen. Turnout was low on both sides, but area residents testifying in favor of background checks outnumbered the opposition two to one. Everyone was looking forward to the remote-testimony experiment, so those of us at Colorado Mesa University were among the first people asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee that day.
County Commissioner John Justman presented his case for unfettered gun rights. It was too early in the day to realize that his mantra would be the same as everyone else opposed to gun regulations. Justman argued that a background check is the same as a poll tax. We don’t charge people for exercising their right to free speech, so we shouldn’t charge them for owning a gun either.
Next, it was my turn. It was strange to speak into a camera without seeing the senators’ faces; and the equipment made an echo, which made us all stumble over our words a bit. Background noises were amplified, and I lost track of what I was saying when Commissioner Justman packed up and walked out during my testimony.
Like others testifying in favor of background checks, I shared statistics about gun violence, including the facts that 1,000 Americans are killed or assaulted with guns every day and 20 of those killed each day are children.
I argued that eliminating background checks does nothing to make communities safer or to improve our quality of life. All it does is make it easier for people who can’t pass background checks because of histories of domestic violence, mental illness, and criminal backgrounds to acquire guns more easily.
It was a good day with a valuable opportunity, and voters are encouraged to participate in the legislative process via remote testimony. Information about upcoming bills and testimony registration can be found at http://www.leg.state.co.us.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Free Press columnist Robyn Parker is the former host of the progressive community radio show, Grand Valley Live. She is a stay-at-home mom, active community volunteer and board member for local environmental and social justice organizations. Robyn may be reached at email@example.com.
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