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Debate over background checks continues years after passage

It was the shooting at Columbine High School in 1999 that prompted state lawmakers to require background checks at gun shows, because that’s where a friend of the two shooters had purchased several of the weapons used to carry out the massacre.

It was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, 13 years later, that prompted state lawmakers to require universal background checks.

That means that no matter how you purchase a gun in Colorado — be it from a shop or a show or a friend in a “private sale” — a background check by a federally licensed dealer is required.

Paradise Sales owner Paul Paradis says the check starts with a list of questions on a form about your criminal or military history, and then the dealer runs your name through state and federal databases by phone or online to verify your eligibility to purchase a firearm.

It sounds extensive, but state and federal data shows it takes about six minutes, and more than 98 percent of all buyers pass.

So have those universal checks passed in 2013 made a difference?

It depends on who you ask.

Former State Senate President John Morse, who supported universal checks and other measures in 2013, and was then recalled for supporting gun control, says they have.

Since 2013 when the law went into effect, 2,193 people attempting to purchase a gun in a private sale transaction — individual to individual — were denied because they were ineligible.

That’s almost 29 denials per month.

Click here for the annual state from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

“We want to make it harder for bad guys to get guns. That’s just flat common sense,” said Morse, adding that he would gladly give up his seat again if it meant potentially saving lives through gun control.

However, gun control opponents argue that universal checks have missed the mark because failing a background check doesn’t mean someone won’t eventually get a gun illegally.

Bob Holmes, owner of Whispering Pines Gun Club says, “The laws we have work, but they work for the honest people. The criminals are going to get a gun no matter what.”

“We have never stopped a single person from getting, making, stealing a gun and using it in a violent crime,” said Paradis.

According to the NRA, “federal studies have repeatedly found that persons imprisoned for firearm crimes get their firearms mostly through theft, the black market, or family members or friends.”

El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder, who also opposes universal checks, confirms that there is a black market for guns in his county.

“There are ways. If you want to find a gun, you will find a gun,” he said.

Morse, a former police chief in Fountain, admits the system isn’t perfect, but believes it has prevented crimes.

“Did we make it impossible? Of course not. Can we make it impossible? We can’t. Can we make it a whole lot harder? Yes, we can,” he said.

Colorado has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to background checks for both gun shows and individual-to-individual purchases. But a lot of states don’t have background checks in place for either.

Wyoming to the north doesn’t require them for either, and neither does the federal government, even though most Americans say they support it.

An ABC News poll in September found 89 percent of Americans support universal checks.

Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to require them, but the bill has since stalled.

Colorado Senator Michael Bennet and other Democrats have called on leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate to act on it, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says he won’t spend any time on it unless President Trump first confirms he would sign it.

Following the back-to-back shootings in El Paso and Dayton in August, Trump said he supported meaningful background checks, but days later suggested that might not be the answer.

“They would not have stopped any of it,” Trump said.

The last time gun control legislation passed at the federal level was 1994.

Lately in Colorado, the issue of red flag legislation has received more attention than background checks, magazine size limits, or any other gun control measures.

The 2019 law allows those in law enforcement or a family member to ask a judge take away guns from a person going through some type of mental crisis.

A lawsuit was filed shortly after it passed to stop it, but not on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.

The lawsuit claims that lawmakers didn’t follow the proper legislative procedures when failing to read the bill aloud upon request before a final vote.

The attorney who filed it, Barry Arrington, tells KRDO that Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser then responded with a motion to dismiss the case.

However, Arrington says the judge overseeing the case has yet to call a hearing to rule on the dismissal or set a trial date, so as of this time, the red flag legislation is on schedule to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Arrington said they haven’t decided yet whether to seek an injunction or a temporarily restraining order to prevent the law from taking effect.

Local News / News / Video

Bart Bedsole

Bart is the evening anchor for KRDO. Learn more about Bart here.



  1. Some people fail a background check because of minor things. Incorrectly filling out the form, bad address etc. So the numbers don’t tell the whole story. I am all for background checks. But criminals don’t go get background checks.

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