DENVER — Colorado's most sweeping gun control package in memory advanced Friday, with expanded background checks and other limits winning approval in the Senate despite marathon attempts by Republicans and gun-rights activists to stop the bills.
Republicans weren't giving up attempts to derail parts of the gun package, stretching debate past 12 hours on a snowy night while furiously tweeting supporters to try to persuade Democrats to change course. The debate appeared headed past midnight.
Republicans spent more than five hours trying to derail one of their most hated proposals, a limit on ammunition magazines.
The gun control proposals were closely watched in a state that balances a history of heartbreaking shootings with a Western heritage where gun ownership is treasured by many.
Democrats shepherded through expanded background checks on private gun purchases and a new ban on gun ownership by people facing domestic-violence accusations. The measures passed after hours of debate as Republicans tried in vain to argue the gun proposals change Colorado's character and violate the Western ideal of self-reliance.
"What do we hate today? Freedom? Liberty?" said Republican Sen. Ted Harvey of Highlands Ranch. "The right of self-protection?"
The Colorado debate is being watched nationally as a bellwether of how far politically moderate states are willing to go with new gun laws in the wake of mass shootings in a suburban Denver movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school. It's also playing out in a state where one of the nation's most high-profile school massacres – the 1999 Columbine High School shootings – took place.
Already the White House has weighed in, with Vice President Joe Biden phoning four lawmakers while on a recent ski vacation here to nudge the Democrats during their first major gun debate last month.
Lawmakers pushing for the stricter measures face powerful opposition from gun-rights advocates. They flooded the state Capitol by the thousands earlier this week, waving "Don't Tread On Me" flags and blaring car horns as they circled the block while bills were being considered in committees. Some Democrats have reported getting threats.
The stakes got higher with Friday's marathon Senate debate, which included seven Democratic gun control measures.
Democrats have argued the country's mass shootings painfully illustrate the need for tighter gun controls. They insist the measures don't compromise Colorado's gun-loving heritage.
"I'm a gun owner, and I have been since I was 12 years old," said Democratic Sen. Mike Johnston of Denver. "What is before us is not a constitutional question but a policy question."
Democrats hold a 20-15 advantage in Senate, meaning they have a narrow margin to pass the bills. But parts of their package were in question Friday.
One of the measures – to end Colorado's unusual practice of allowing concealed weapons on public college campuses – was in doubt, as was a set of liability standards for sellers and owners of assault weapons used in crimes.
Lobbying has been intense on Colorado's gun bills, and the pressure grew Friday. A suburban gun accessory maker that has threatened to leave the state if the magazine limit passes sent company executives to lobby wavering Democrats on that measure.
Some Democrats have reported getting threatening emails and phone calls. As senators debated, a man accused of threatening one of the Democrats appeared in court to answer criminal charges. In an appearance just down the street from the Capitol, Franklin Sain's lawyer told a judge Friday that Sain's emails and calls to state Rep. Rhonda Fields were constitutionally protected political speech.
Back in the Senate, lawmakers slogged through the seven firearms bills while deeper philosophical barbs about gun rights peppered the debate.
"This is a day of dysfunctionalism," griped Republican Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction.
Democrats frequently cited the Connecticut school shooting and the Aurora theater shooting as they argued the limits are needed.
Arguing for the magazine ammunition limits, Democratic Sen. Mary Hodge said the change to Colorado's heritage and the potential inconveniences on gun owners paled in comparison to the pain of gun violence.
"This bill is merely an attempt to reduce the slaughter," Hodge said.
Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has said he would sign into law a magazine limit and a background-check expansion, but he hasn't made up his mind on the rest of the measures.
Talking to a group of high school journalists Thursday, Hickenlooper said he's keeping his options open.
"I'm not in any way an anti-gun person," the governor said.
Ivan Moreno can be reached at and Kristen Wyatt at
1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.
Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:
Colorado Movie Theater Shooting
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.
Sikh Temple Shooting
On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.