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After a horrible tragedy, a state legislature with conservative Western roots rejected the notion of stronger gun control.

It's not often that legislators invite someone they'd like to put in jail to come testify before their committee.

But there stood Robyn Anderson, the young woman who had gone to the prom with columbine killer Dylan Klebold and provided him and fellow gunman Eric Harris three of the four guns they used to execute the worst school shooting in U.S. history. She stood before the House Judiciary Committee, sitting atop the high bench where the Colorado Supreme court used to sit, the star witness in the most searing gun control debate in the country.

She calmly recounted how she did "a favor for two friends," buying guns on their behalf at a local gun show because she was 18, and they weren't.

She explained how they went from table to table, seeking out "private sellers" who would not run a criminal background check on her. The paperwork required in a background check, she said, would have required her to give her name, and she didn't want to do that.

Anderson, a straight-A student who never went back to columbine High after the deadly rampage, came forward after the shootings and was questioned by investigators. Legislators repeatedly had said that she should be prosecuted for buying the guns. But federal and state prosecutors countered that it wasn't illegal for her to buy guns in a private sale, which doesn't require a background check.

But she told the committee there should have been a law.

"It was entirely too easy to purchase the guns, and something should be done," Anderson told the committee.

The killers left 12 students and one teacher dead in the suburban Denver school on April 20, 1999, before taking their own lives.

Anderson's testimony brought some of the reality of that day to legislators' doorsteps. But it couldn't convince them to change the law for gun shows.

Indeed, even after columbine made Colorado "ground zero" in the nation's gun debate, legislators in the home state of the massacre rejected the idea that the state needed stronger gun control. At the end of the legislative session--just two weeks after the one-year anniversary of Columbine--Colorado legislators had passed six bills relating to firearms. Half seek to protect gun owners.

Legislators adopted a measure to prohibit local governments from-filing negligence lawsuits against the gun industry, as did many other states. They approved a bill protecting people who want to drive across the state with guns in their cars and one that will keep secret the names of people who get government permission to carry concealed handguns. They approved bills to make "straw purchases" illegal, include juvenile records in background checks, and reinstate the state's background check for gun purchases.


Governor Bill Owens, a Republican elected just five months before the shootings with the support of the National Rifle Association, proposed a package of middle-of-the-road gun control measures in response to Columbine. But he couldn't muster the support in a legislature controlled by his fellow Republicans to pass most of it.

A state that has bucked the federal government's motorcycle helmet mandates and open container laws held true to its Western roots and its conservative political culture.

Nobody wears cowboy hats in the chambers, but bolo ties often replace the silken variety, and even the suburbanites chose western boots over dress shoes.

Majority Republicans' response was that gun control was not the answer to the shootings that took place only a few miles from where the legislature meets.

"As long as the Constitution says what it says, it won't matter if we put a thousand more gun laws on the books, it won't stop that kind of thing. We've got to prosecute the bad guys." said House Majority Leader Doug Dean.

Democrats, who received the governor's gun plan much more warmly, are angered by the lack of response, and say their GOP colleagues will pay for it at the ballot box in November.

"What Columbine did show is the accessibility of guns," said Colorado House Minority Leader Ken Gordon.

Gordon acknowledged that the gun control bills probably would not have stopped Columbine. But they say Columbine and the other school shootings across the country show the need for changes in the gun laws.

He compares it to policymaking during the Great Depression.

"Hoover's view was that the government should stay out of it, it would all work out. Roosevelt said, 'I don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to do something.'

"This crisis of people getting shot, well Republicans are saying, 'That just happens.' Democrats are saying, 'Let's try something."'

Gordon said the Columbine debate shows how effective lobbying, like that done by the National Rifle Association, can thwart the public will.

"I think the NRA's always going to be there," Gordon said. "Do-gooders like the gun control groups won't always be there. I don't think anybody's been punished for voting with the gun lobby, but they will be punished for voting against them."

But Colorado is no exception. Across the country, firearm bills met with little success this year, due in part to intense gridlock on the issue.

This year, more than 800 firearm-related bills were introduced, with a passage rate hovering around 10 percent. And most of the bills that reached a governor's desk were related to administrative matters, such as hunting licenses or the cost of concealed weapons permits. Only a handful concerned matters on the nightly news--trigger locks, background checks at guns shows and gun manufacturer liability.


On April 20, 1999, Colorado legislators were debating bills on the House floor when word started trickling in that something terrible was happening at a school in a Denver suburb.

Representative Don Lee, who represents the neighborhoods around Columbine and whose son attended the school, got a page from his wife. She told him there had been a shooting, but their son was safe.

Soon, legislators were glued to their televisions watching the surreal aerial footage of the school, filmed from helicopters. Some called home to check on their children, to make sure nothing had happened at other schools.

Lee went to the first floor, where Governor Bill Owens, some staff and Public Safety Chief Ari Zavaras were watching the events unfold on television and getting some updates from the field.

Owens would later go to Leawood Elementary School, near Columbine High School, where parents and students tried to find each other. Just a little more than three months into his first term, he was the spokesman for a state that suffered a tragedy being watched across the globe.

Asked that day about gun laws, Owens seemed ready to head off what seemed to be an inevitable call for more gun control, telling reporters as he stood at the school that "these killers broke every gun law in the book when they walked in today."

Owens had been at the center of a heated gun debate that had come to dominate the 1999 legislative session. With the first Republican in 24 years installed in the governor's office, GOP legislators had been eager to loosen the state's gun laws, making it easier for more Coloradans to carry concealed weapons and wiping out many local government restrictions on guns.

But news of the shooting had an immediate effect at the Capitol.

Even as students were fleeing the school, House Speaker Russ George started getting e-mail messages blaming the legislature for the massacre. Senator Norma Anderson, whose district includes Columbine, found that her voice mail had filled with anti-gun messages before the tragic afternoon ended.

The next day, the legislature, like the rest of Colorado and the nation, was reeling. All legislative work was cancelled for the day.

Dean and the sponsor of another pro-gun bill announced that they were withdrawing their bills, not because they were wrong, but because it was the wrong time to debate guns.

Representative Gary McPherson, the sponsor of the bill that would have eliminated many local gun laws, stressed that his bill "had nothing to do" with the shootings. "But this is an emotionally charged debate, and in deference to the families, this is not the time to have the debate."

Owens announced that he would veto a third bill that had already passed the legislature.

At the time of the shootings, there was little more than two weeks left in the session. Legislators, numbed by the tragedy, went about their work. Talking about guns was just too painful.

But a few months later, Owens surprised many when, as part of his response to Columbine, he proposed five "common sense restraints" on guns intended to keep them out of the hands of children and criminals. In a report issued jointly with Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar, Owens called on legislators to:

* Require criminal background checks on all sales at gun shows.

* Require safe storage and enforce criminal penalties on parents who store guns carelessly, if the gun winds up hurting someone or being used in a crime.

* Raise from 18 to 21 the minimum age for purchasing a handgun at a gun show (the minimum age is already 21 for purchases from a federally licensed dealer).

* Allow local police and prosecutors to enforce federal laws banning straw purchases on behalf of criminals or children (federal authorities can already prosecute such purchasers).

* Include juvenile criminal records in background checks.


His new agenda surprised many. He'd been at the center of the drive to loosen gun laws, and he'd been supported in his 1998 election by the National Rifle Association. The powerful gun lobbying group had dubbed him one of four "newcomers we need" nationally and spent $7,665 on a phone bank to help get him elected.

Reaction was swift. A gun lobbying group quickly dubbed him a traitor and Governor Gun Control. House leader Dean said, "The House and Senate favor the rights of people to bear arms. That's what we'll be keeping in mind--not a report from the governor."

Bob Beauprez, chairman of the state GOP, put out a message pleading for calm within the party.

"Our disagreements and conversations about those disagreements need to take place outside of the public arena," Beauprez wrote.

Owens says it was a perfectly rational response to take a look at gun laws after the tragedy.

"Columbine did show us some places where we could take some pretty simple steps to keep guns out of the hands of kids and criminals," Owens said. "You'd have to be pretty arrogant not to let Columbine teach you some simple lessons."

Owens' five proposals became the core of Colorado's gun debate. The state's new gun control lobbying group, SAFE Colorado (for Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic), adopted the five measures as its own.

But Owens' fellow Republicans weren't ready to adopt them as their own. As the early January start of the session approached, most elements of Owens' gun plan didn't have sponsors from the Republican majority. Given that the majority party is generally predisposed to oppose gun control, that didn't bode well.

"It's hard to carry a bill if you don't believe in it," Dean said.

Speaker George says Owens has influence over the members of his party in the legislative branch, but not control.

"You can't back the governor 100 percent of the time. Coloradans have a tendency to be pretty libertarian. The governor has never tried to say 'This is what I want, and this is where I want you to be.' When he gave his argument, I said 'You have to remember where I'm coming from,'" said George, who is from a rural district and a small town named, ironically enough, Rifle.


Among the measures lacking support was the gun-show measure, considered the most controversial.

Background checks are already required on any gun sale conducted at a store, because stores are federal firearms licensees, more often called licensed dealers, and are therefore governed by federal laws. But at gun shows many of the vendors are not licensees, so they don't have to do background checks. They are considered private sellers offering their personal collections for sale.

Some are selling antique guns and relics. Some offer guns only occasionally. But some sell so-called assault weapons, like the TECDC9 semiautomatic pistol bought for the Columbine killers by a man named Mark Manes. Manes is now serving six years in prison after pleading guilty to selling a handgun to a minor and possession of an illegally sawed-off shotgun.

Gun control advocates say that's a "loophole" that makes the shows a great place for criminals and minors to get guns.

Pro-gun lobbyists say there are very few vendors who don't do background checks. And they say the sales that are made without background checks are private sales that should be allowed to go on without government interference.

They note that both Manes and Anderson would have passed background checks if they'd been required.

As in many states, the gun lobby has a great deal of clout in Colorado. The National Rifle Association claims 90,000 members in the state, and even their foes express admiration for their ability to generate grassroots support for their positions.

NRA members work for the candidates they support, licking envelopes and pounding in yard signs. Then, when gun issues come up, they call those legislators again. NRA lobbyist Mary Anne Bradfield spends a great deal of time in Colorado, though she handles several other states.

She rarely testifies before committees, leaving that to the NRA's state affiliate, the Colorado State Shooting Association. The CSSA has a hired executive director, but can also muster a squadron of volunteer lobbyists to show up at hearings.


But the tactics and positions of the NRA are tame compared with those of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, affiliated with Gun Owners of America. The self-described "no compromise" group is known to seek primary opponents for Republicans with moderate records on guns.

The group never endorsed in the race for governor because Owens wouldn't answer its issue survey. Dudley Brown, the group's executive director, notes that "there was little doubt in most voters' minds that Owens was the pro-gun candidate."

Members of the group started showing up at some of Owens' appearances around the state, waving signs like "Benedict Owens." One night early in the session, 300 protesters showed up at the governor's mansion chanting, "No more gun control."

"We had no choice but to lash back," Brown said. "In politics, when you get pinched, you at least have to squeal."

In SAFE, however, Columbine had spurred the creation of a more potent gun control lobby than had existed before. It was founded by Republican lawyer John Head and Democratic media consultant Arnie Grossman to go "toe-to-toe" with the NRA in the state. Emphasizing bipartisanship on an issue that had until then been pushed primarily by Democrats, the group signed on former Republican Governor John Love and former Democratic Governor Dick Lamm as co-chairs.

Then they hired Tom Mauser, the father of slain Columbine student Daniel Mauser, to be their lobbyist for the session. Daniel, a member of the debate team at Columbine, had told his father about loopholes in the federal Brady background check law only weeks before the shootings.

Mauser took a leave from his job at the head of the state's transit and rail unit at the Colorado Department of Transportation to become SAFE's director of political affairs. The group matched his state salary of $72,000.


Despite the changes that had taken place since the shooting, not much had changed under the golden dome-of Colorado's Capitol.

Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli notes that there hasn't been a state election since Columbine. Support for gun control would require a [80-degree turn for many of those elected in a strong Republican tide in 1998.

"Columbine didn't change the personnel or the attitude there," Ciruli said.

But Columbine hasn't changed the public's attitude much either, according to another Colorado pollster.

"Our polls show nothing changed," said Paul Talmey, president of Talmey-Drake Research and Strategy Inc.

Support for allowing more concealed weapons permits was 66 percent in Colorado two months before the shootings. A poll taken less than a month after Columbine showed little or no decline in that support. It showed 65 percent supporting looser concealed carry laws. Banning handguns enjoyed the support of only 16 percent of Coloradans before the shootings and 18 percent after.

But some gun control measures are supported by Coloradans, according to Talmey's polls, and that support stayed steady after Columbine. Limiting handgun purchases to one a month was supported by 60 percent before Columbine and 67 percent afterward.

As the session began this January, the leaders of both chambers set a deadline, saying they wanted all gun bills disposed of by mid-February. That reflected a view held by nearly everyone at the Capitol that the gun issue was not the most important one facing Colorado or its leaders. They said education, growth and tax cuts were all more important.

Owens' education plan passed. Growth bills all withered, and tax cuts didn't create much heat. But legislators did not meet the deadline on guns. Still, the arbitrary deadline did front-load the debate. Legislators revved up quickly to the day that Robyn Anderson testified.

Anderson's appearance had a star quality to it, as she had rarely given interviews, and never to local media. As one representative told her, "This is the first opportunity the public in Colorado has had to hear your story from your mouth."

Her only nod to nervousness was when she started to call her former friends "Dylik" instead of Dylan and Eric. She testified she did not know what her two friends planned to do with the weapons, though she said she "assumed their parents didn't approve."

But her central point was that if there had been a background check, she would not have bought the guns.

"It would have stopped me from doing a favor for two friends," Anderson said. "However, for those who enjoy collecting, hunting or target shooting, this would be a small inconvenience."

But her testimony also provided fodder for those who opposed the background check. She quickly came under intense questioning from Representative Shawn Mitchell, who asked if she had a criminal record, had ever been adjudicated mentally defective or had been discharged from the military. She said no to each.

"If you had gone through a background check, you would have passed with flying colors, right?" Mitchell asked.

"This is true," Anderson responded.

Mitchell had harsh words for her testimony, and for Minority Leader Gordon, who had arranged it.

"I think you carelessly and tragically involved yourself in some thing evil," Mitchell said. "Now, I think you're being carelessly manipulated in an opportunistic situation."

Gordon said he was simply laying out evidence, like a lawyer would do in a trial.

"The Republicans were saying no bill would have done anything about Columbine," Gordon said. "But I started thinking, this is an 18-year-old girl. Would she have done a background check? I thought maybe it would have spooked her. So I called her lawyer, and he said I was right. So I asked if she would testify."

Anderson's testimony was not the only bit of drama in the gun debate that day. The sped-up legislative deadline for gun bills persuaded House Judiciary Chairman Bill Kaufman to put eight bills on the agenda for the 1:30 p.m. hearing, stretching the hearing well past midnight. Democrats accused the Republicans of lumping the gun bills together to minimize their political pain on the gun issue, but Kaufman said the goal was simply to meet the leadership's deadline.

It turned out to be a day for legislators to relive Columbine. After Anderson hustled out of the Capitol, flanked by family members and trailed by a phalanx of photographers, another Columbine student testified to the opposite point of view.

Rachel Erbert was in the Columbine cafeteria on April 20, but she didn't join the call for more gun control. "I know that we should not be discussing guns today. We should be discussing the people behind the trigger," she told the committee.

The gun show loophole bill survived that night, along with every other gun proposal on the agenda.

But that sent it to the House Appropriations Committee, where the real lobbying began. Appropriations in Colorado is a legislative strait through which must pass any bill that costs money. It's usually intended to keep bills from pumping up the budget, but legislators are not obligated to vote along strictly financial lines.

Because of the makeup of the committee, two Republicans would be needed to join the Democrats on the committee to get the bill to the floor. Thus began what the governor's lobbyist, Mike Beasley, a nine-year veteran of Capitol hallways, described as "the most intense vote counting I've ever done."

The NRA mailed all of its Colorado members shortly before the vote, urging them to call their legislators and ask them to vote no.

One Republican committee chair, Steve Tool, was already a firm yes. Speculation and lobbying efforts focused on Representative Debbie Allen, a Republican who had generally supported gun rights in the past, but had bucked the gun lobby on some high-profile votes.

Allen got hundreds of phone calls. The Rocky Mountain Gun Owners dropped hundreds of leaflets in her district. And a gun control group called people in her district, asking them to call her in support of the bill.

"Besides having your teeth pulled, I can't think of anything worse," Allen recalled. "It was very tense."

But she said she found the arguments of opponents the most reasoned and compelling. Bill supporters, she said, would ask things like, "How does it feel to kill babies?"

The vote came on a brisk day in early February in a hearing room across the Street from the Capitol.

Gordon, who had arranged the Robyn Anderson testimony, had one more trick up his sleeve, though he knew the bill was likely dead. He walked into the committee with a lock box and whipped out a .22-caliber target pistol, explaining how he'd bought it at a gun show with no questions asked.

The gimmick didn't work (though it prompted his opponents to propose new rules about bringing guns to the Capitol). Allen voted with most of the rest of her fellow Republicans, and the bill died.

Though the gun debate would continue right up to the end of the session, that was the day that the air went out of the drive for gun control in the Colorado General Assembly.

The safe storage bill had already died on a tie vote in another committee meeting when a Democratic legislator missed the vote. A third portion of Owens' plan, a watered-down version of the proposal to raise the purchase age for handguns at gun shows, lasted one more day. Then a contingent of Democrats switched their votes, complaining that the bill was a do-nothing measure.

That meant that three of Owens' five gun control measures proposed in response to Columbine were dead. The other two were measures that could gather the support of the NRA, and likely would have passed even without Columbine.

But as the legislative drive ended, a voter initiative was born.

Only moments after the gun show defeat, SAFE's Mauser announced that gun control supporters would take the issue to the ballot.

"If they won't do it in the halls of the legislature, we'll do it in the streets," Mauser said.

Since then, polls have shown that 80 percent or more of Colorado voters support the initiative.

Gun control supporters are hoping that the continued focus on gun issues will go beyond the voter initiative and change the makeup of the legislature.

"I'm hoping that two or three people will lose their elections this year, and next year this issue will get more attention," Gordon said.

Speaker George agreed that the upcoming election will give the state's leaders more guidance on the gun issue.

"I don't think this legislature is going to solve this issue," he said. "It's going to be solved by the voters."

Pro-gun forces say they too are mobilizing their ranks for the upcoming election. And when the next session rolls around, they have a powerful ally in Dean, who is the odds-on favorite to be the next speaker of the House.

Mike Soraghan covers politics and government for The Denver Post.



Mount Morris Township, Mich.

Feb. 29, 2000

A first-grader shoots and mortally wounds a classmate the day after they quarrel in the schoolyard.

Conyers, Ga.

May 20, 1999

Exactly one month after Columbine shootings, a 15-year-old shoots and wounds six, classmates.

Littleton, Colo.

April 20, 1999

Two teens ambush a suburban high school, killing 15 including themselves and wounding 28. Largest school shooting rampage in American history.

Springfield, Ore.

May 21, 1998

Armed with three guns, a 15-year-old kills two students in the high school cafeteria and wounds 19 others. His parents are found dead in his home.

Jonesboro, Ark.

March 24, 1998

Two boys, ages 11 and 13, kill four girls and a teacher and wound 10 others at a middle school.

West Paducah, Ky.

Dec. 1, 1997

A 14-year-old opens fire on a group of students praying in a high school hallway, three killed, five wounded.



HB 444: Makes it illegal to possess a firearm on school grounds.

HB 663: Prohibits cities from suing firearm manufacturers.


HB 739: Makes carrying a firearm in places licensed to sell liquor a Class 4 felony.


HB 15: Prohibits cities from suing firearm manufacturers.


SB 211: Requires trigger locks on all firearms sold in the state as of Dec. 31, 2002.

South Carolina

HB 3804: Makes it illegal to possess a firearm on Capitol grounds.


HB 199: Prohibits lawsuits against firearm manufacturers.


HB 309: Requires background checks at gun shows.

HB 464: Clarifies that possession of weapons on school buses and at bus stops is grounds for expulsion from school and constitutes a crime.

HB 905: Prohibits cities from suing firearm manufacturers.


SB 6206: Requires that schools be notified of firearm violations by students.

West Virginia

HB 2605: Increases the age for obtaining a concealed weapon permit from 18 to 21.



HB 1717: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.

HB 1935: Prohibits firearms on school property, school buses or school bus stops.

SB 364: Makes parents responsible for minors possessing firearms on school property.

SB 372: Requires parents to acknowledge responsibility for allowing student access to firearms.


AB 295: Makes it illegal to carry firearms in state or local public buildings.


HB 189: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.


HB 343: Makes it illegal to aim a laser pointer at a peace officer.

HB 1195: Increases the penalties for discharging a firearm in or near schools or school buses.

SB 177: Makes keeping a loaded firearm accessible to a child under 14 a Class A misdemeanor if child gains access and causes death or injury.

SB 759: Provides for adult prosecution of a minor at least 15 who is charged with aggravated battery with a firearm committed in a school or at a school related activity.


HB 1094: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.

SB 1078: Enhances penalties for crimes committed on school property, at a school related activity, or within a gun free zone.


HB 1537: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.


AB 166: Expands areas where permit holders may carry concealed firearm.

AB 543: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.

New Jersey

AB 2826: Requires trigger locks at point of sale.

North Carolina

HB 1154: Requires a one year suspension for students bringing firearms or explosives on school property or to school-related activities.

SB 1096: Makes it a felony for a school employee or student to possess a firearm on school property or at school-sponsored events.


HB 2396: Expands crimes for which youths 15 or older may be tried as an adult.


SB 167: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.

Rhode Island

HB 6425: Increases from 15 to 18, the age minors may possess ammunition and firearms.

HB 6450: Prohibits giving firearms and ammunition to minors without parental consent.

South Carolina

HB 3804: Makes it illegal to carry firearms on Capitol grounds.

South Dakota

HB 1301: Limits the liability resulting from the manufacture, distribution and sale of firearms.


HB 585: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.

HB l442: Makes failure to report minor's possession of firearm on school property a Class A misdemeanor.


SB 717: Prohibits cities from suing gun manufacturers.

HCR 57: Declares the week of Oct. 18-22 as Children's Firearm Safety Week.


HB 1691: Adds a mandatory five-year sentence for anyone convicted of possessing firearm on school ground with the intent to use it or displaying it in a threatening manner.



SB 130: Requires as of January 2002 that firearms sold, transferred or manufactured in this state be accompanied by a Department of Justice approved safety device.


HB 5746: Requires that pistols and revolvers when sold have reusable trigger locks, gun locks or gun locking devices.


HB 565: Expands the offense of reckless endangering in the second degree to parents and legal guardians who knowingly contribute to the unlawful possession of a firearm by a juvenile.

New Jersey

AB 2420: Exempts firearm trigger locks and other safety devices from sales and use tax.

AB 2421: Exempts firearm vaults from sales and use tax.

AB 2469: Establishes a $5 rebate program for purchasers of firearms who also purchase trigger locking devices.

SB 1258: Makes it illegal to use a laser pointer against a police officer.

SB 1369: Makes it illegal to use an imitation firearm against a police officer.

New York

SB 6243: Youths 14 or 15 charged with criminal possession of a machine gun or loaded firearm on school grounds will be tried as juveniles.


HB 286: Provides for firearm injury prevention instruction in public elementary schools.



SB 70: Outlaws discharge of a firearm at, or in the direction of, buildings, dwellings, vehicles or people.


HB 1640: Allows permit holders to carry a concealed weapon into restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages.


AB 491: Extends liability resulting from negligent storage of a firearm to include access by minors ages 16 and younger.


SB 747: Makes it a Class 4 felony for a person who, while-committing any crime, has in his possession a firearm or knife and is wearing body armor.



AB 624: Makes penalty for possession of a firearm on school property two to five years in state prison.


SB 58: Makes it illegal to possess a firearm while under the influence of alcohol.


HB 41A; Authorizes K-12 public schools officials to use discretion in disciplining a pupil for possessing a firearm or knife in school property.


HB 297: Prohibits straw purchases of firearms.

HB 1254: Requires superintendent of schools to expel students with disabilities for bringing a firearm onto school property.

SB 215: Prohibits straw purchases of firearms.


HB 4038: Requires that children who use a firearm in the commission of a crime be committed to a detention facility.

New York

SB 4140: Establishes a one-year suspension period for students who bring a firearm to school.


HB 64: Requires school districts to expel for one year students who bring firearms to school, and to permit school districts to temporarily deny admittance to students who have been expelled from other districts.

HB 72: Prohibits the possession of a firearm on school premises or a school bus or at any school activity.


SB 38: Requires suspension of a student for possession of a firearm on school property.

Rhode Island

HB 6063: Establishes a one-year mandatory suspension for any student bringing a firearm or realistic replica onto school premises.

HB 6532: Creates an offense for the possession, sale or transfer of firearms on school grounds.

South Carolina

SB 482: Requires expulsion for students who bring a firearm to school.

South Dakota

SB 43: Specifies the length of expulsions of students possessing firearms on school premises.


HB 951: Makes it illegal to possess a firearm where alcoholic beverages are served.

HB 1790: Prohibits students from possessing unauthorized firearms on school property.


SB 5440: Requires expulsion from school for at least one year for possession of a firearm on school premises.

Kelly Anders, NCSL


The first piece of Governor Bill Owens' gun agenda that he was able to sign into law this year was brought about not by Columbine, but by the murder of three other Colorado children.

Two months after Columbine, in the Denver suburb of Castle Rock, a man named Simon Gonzales killed his three daughters before starting a gun battle with police that left him dead.

Hours before, he'd bought a handgun from a licensed dealer at the dealer's home. The dealer did a federal background check, and Gonzales passed.

A state background check system would have stopped the sale, because it would have caught a restraining order filed against Gonzales by his ex-wife.

But the state check had been killed several months earlier by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which decided that it simply duplicated the federal system.

It was one of those rare occasions when a terrible crime had a direct connection to a government policy.

Owens rushed to restart the program through executive order shortly after the murders.

But he needed legislative approval to keep it going.

So the state background check became the sixth plank in Owens' gun control agenda for the session. And Owens frequently said it was the most important part.

But despite initial support from the gun lobby, it became a legislative battle. The NRA fought a provision called "deny-on-arrest."

The debate concerned what workers at the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, which performs the checks, would do when a computer check showed that a potential gun buyer had been arrested, but couldn't tell whether or not he or she had been convicted.

The problem is that arrest information and conviction information are in two different databases, and the two don't match up well. By the most optimistic measure, they match up only 35 percent of the time.

For years, the CBI had denied the sale, and allowed the buyer to appeal by submitting documentation that a charge had been dropped or he or she had been acquitted. The NRA said that was unfair, and even unconstitutional, blocking eligible gun buyers from exercising their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

But Owens was able to win over enough Republican moderates and some conservatives with strong pro-police sentiments, like Senator Ken Arnold, a former state trooper who sponsored the bill.

It was the only time during the session that Owens took on the NRA and won.


Just a little more than three months into his first term, the Columbine shootings taught Representative Don Lee a fast, tough lesson about the conflicts between public service and family duties.

Lee was on the floor in House debate when he got a page from his wife with "911" behind the number. He stepped to the bank of phones next to the House chamber and called. She told him there'd been a shooting at their son's school, but he'd escaped and was at a friend's house.

Lee's home is about a mile from Columbine, and he represents the subdivisions that surround the school in suburban Jefferson County. He quickly got excused from the floor and went to the governor's office on the first floor of the Capitol, where top law enforcement officials were getting frequent updates.

"I was torn between going home to be with my family and staying where I could get updated as a public official," Lee said. In the end, knowing that his son was safe, he decided to stay at the Capitol.

Lee, an aerospace technician, is a soft-spoken legislator with an easy grin and strong conservative beliefs. Being the representative from Columbine has brought challenges to his first term that he hadn't expected.

"It's been very stressful," Lee says, "to have this happen to your community ... I was not only affected as a community leader, but as a parent."

In the weeks that followed the shootings, Lee did not take a high profile role at the Capitol. But he did take a leadership role in his ravaged community.

He formed a task force by running a "call to action" in a community weekly newspaper, asking for local leaders and others to come together in the wake of the tragedy. About 30 people showed up to the first meeting three weeks after the shootings.

"We wanted to use Columbine as a watershed moment so that other communities could learn from this," Lee said. "I wanted to do everything in my power to help the community heal."

He realized the commitment of his fellow members when he accidentally scheduled a meeting at the same time as a Denver Broncos preseason game. As he drove to the meeting, he realized the conflict, and figured few would show. But there were 40 people there when he arrived.

"For that to happen in Denver is incredible," he said. "And that's before we knew the Broncos were going to have a lousy year."

The focus of the task force was not new state laws. Most of their efforts have been directed toward schools. The committee came up with a recommendation against fortifying schools with security devices like metal detectors and proposed a minimum dress code ("pant waist size must be within two inches of actual waist size").

The committee did come up with a bill to make it easier for parents to get their children's library records. It died quickly in the legislature, leaving committee members bewildered, Lee said.

"It's frustrating for them because things don't happen real fast," he said.

Lee's fellow legislators turned down several of his other Columbine-related bills, including ones to:

* Make it easier for crime victims, witnesses and others to close crime records. The bill was prompted by the release to Time magazine of the killers' videotapes and fears about investigators' final Columbine report. The bill was opposed by the press and prosecutors.

* Create a tax checkoff, coupled with a license plate, designed to raise money for the permanent medical needs of students badly injured in the Columbine shootings. But the license plate contained the motto "Respect Life," which some legislators said would be confused with an anti-abortion slogan.

* Change child labor laws in the wake of another Columbine tragedy, the slaying of two students in February 2000 at a Subway sandwich shop blocks from the school. After the slaying, many were outraged to learn that one of the victims was a 15-year-old boy closing the store late at night.

Lee said it was difficult to build support for the measures without the backing of an interest group that could help him get the word out to all of his fellow members.

"If you don't have a lobby helping with your legislation, it's hard to get something through," Lee said. "I'm busy myself. I don't have time to lobby 65 members."

Lee did manage to put several bills on the governor's desk. One would make concealed weapons permits closed records. Lee said he saw it more as a privacy issue than a gun issue, though he got solid support from the gun lobby.

Another was part of Governor Bill Owens' gun control plan, requiring juveniles to be fingerprinted on arrest so their criminal records could be used in background checks for gun purchases later on.

The other is possibly the only bill that would have netted another charge out of the Columbine investigation. It will make it a crime to buy a gun for anyone under 18 without parental permission. Lee called it the Robyn Anderson bill, after the woman who bought on behalf of the killers three of the four guns used in the massacre.

That bill stemmed from his work as chairman of a law enforcement task force reviewing all the gun laws on the books. Though he is a strongly pro-gun conservative, reviewing gun laws is not what he expected to be doing when he ran for office.

"I became an expert over the interim on gun laws," Lee said. "That never would have happened except for Columbine, because it's not my issue."
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Author:Soraghan, Mike
Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:Jun 1, 2000
Next Article:The Politics of Peanut Butter.

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