Brennan Linsley, Associated Press
Colorado State Senate President John Morse answers questions during a news conference at which he and others unveiled much-anticipated gun control measures sponsored by Democrats, at the State Capitol, in Denver, Tuesday Feb. 5, 2013. Morse, flanked at left by Jane Dougherty, of Colorado, holding a photo of her sister Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, is the sponsor of a new bill that would hold manufacturers, sellers, and owners of assault weapons liable and responsible for damages caused by shootings with those weapons.
DENVER — Colorado Democrats on Tuesday called for a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, more background checks for gun purchases and new liability for assault-weapon manufacturers — all reactions to mass shootings that set up battles with Republicans and gun rights groups.
"This sickness of violence is spreading through America like a plague, and inaction in the face of this death and destruction is completely unacceptable," said Democratic Senate President John Morse.
One proposal would prohibit the sale and ownership of magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Another bill would require more background checks on firearm purchases to include sales between private owners.
Democrats didn't propose banning assault weapons. Instead, they want sellers, manufacturers and owners of such firearms to be held liable for damages caused by the weapons.
"It will not ban them. It will just hold people strictly liable, strictly responsible for what occurs," said Morse, who is sponsoring the bill. He said some of the details are still being worked out.
A gun rights group said new liability standards amounts to an assault-weapon ban.
"By holding the manufacturers liable, they effectively ban the sale," said Dudley Brown, the head of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
He compared the bill to holding Corvette liable for speeding cars. Republican Sen. Greg Brophy said it would be "like holding Coors responsible for drunk driving."
He wasn't optimistic about the Republicans' ability to block the proposals, because Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature.
"I think they're going to railroad these bills right through the state of Colorado," he said.
Republicans also pointed out that Morse's idea may conflict with a 2005 federal law that protects gunmakers and sellers from liability for crimes committed with their products.
Democrats unveiled the package of bills at the state Capitol surrounding relatives of victims of the shootings at the Aurora movie theater, the Connecticut elementary school and Columbine High School. Some held pictures of their relatives.
"I am channeling my sister today," said Jane Dougherty, whose sister Mary Sherlach, was a psychologist killed at Sandy Hook elementary.
The bills have not yet been introduced.
"It is for you that we say enough to the gun violence that is stealing our children from us. We should all feel safe when we go to a movie or to a school," said Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino.
He added, "As a civilized society, we cannot stand by and wait for another Columbine or another Aurora."
The Democratic Legislature has already rejected several GOP ideas to reduce gun violence, including a bill to allow school employees to carry concealed weapons.
"Bill that are proven to make people safer, they kill, then they offer up an agenda of extreme proposals that won't make anybody safer," Brophy said.
Other proposals Democrats plan to introduce include new regulations requiring mental health professionals to tell authorities about patients who shouldn't have access to guns. Lawmakers also want to require in-person training for people seeking concealed carry permits, prohibiting the training from being completed online.
Another proposal would require gun purchasers to pay $10 for their own background checks. The state pays for them now. Currently, there's a long wait-list on the checks.
Democrats also are introducing a bill that would clarify that concealed weapons are prohibited on most areas of a college campus and stadiums.
Ferrandino acknowledged that the proposals "we introduce today will not bring all gun violence to a screeching halt," but insisted the plans would reduce shootings.
Republicans argued that what Democrats are proposing would not have prevented any of the recent mass shootings and that universal background checks are unenforceable without a registry of all firearms.
"The extreme liberal wing of the ruling class would rather make us criminals, than allow us to protect our families from criminals," said Sen. Bill Cadman, the Republican's Senate leader.
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Bill Hoover, 83, whose grandson AJ Boik was among those killed in Aurora, said he supports the idea of more background checks and new liability standards. He said he believes stricter background checks would have made it more difficult for the Aurora shooter to get his firearms.
"The background check portion of it, AJ would still be alive, I believe," he said, holding a picture of Boik to his chest. "I firmly believe that."
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