Hey Congress, Follow Colorado’s Gun Control Lead

The pro Second Amendment state is leading the way on gun control.

Cartoon satirizes the gun lobby's power to block Congressional gun control legislation
+ More

Rhonda Fields is a state representative from Aurora, Colo. Her son Javad Marshall-Fields was shot to death in 2005. Marjorie Sloan is mayor of Golden, Colo. Jane Dougherty of Littleton, Colo., is the sister of Mary Sherlach, who was murdered in the Newtown, Conn. massacre.

The Senate has begun debate on gun safety legislation, and as President Obama reminded us last week, Congress needs to keep going and follow Colorado's lead. If a moderate, bellwether state like Colorado can pass common sense gun safety laws, senators and representatives from both parties should be able to do the same. Families in other states suffer from gun violence just like ours.

As the president put it in his remarks in Denver, "this is a state that has suffered the tragedy of two of the worst mass shootings in our history – 14 years ago this month in Columbine, and just last year in Aurora ... But this is also a state that treasures its Second Amendment rights. Colorado has shown that practical progress is possible ... they came together understanding that out of this tragedy there had to be something that made sense."

The legislation Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law on March 20 makes sense. It includes closing the background check loophole, a move which is overwhelmingly supported both here in Colorado and nationally. Two January 2013 statewide polls, one by the Denver Post and one by highly-respected pollster Chris Keating, found support for universal background checks on all gun purchases at over 80 percent.

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

But this is not just about doing what is popular. It's about doing what is right. The bills that passed in Colorado are common-sense measures that will protect public safety by keeping guns out the hands of dangerous people and the seriously mentally ill.

After the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Coloradans voted overwhelmingly to close the loophole that prevented background checks on gun purchases at gun shows. Now we've taken the next step by closing the loophole for private sellers, the ones who don't have a gun dealer's license.

When we closed the gun show loophole, Colorado was the 17th largest source of guns later found at crime scenes in other states. A year after closing the gun show loophole we ranked 27th, and by 2009 we ranked 32nd.

[Take the U.S. News Poll: Can the Senate Pass a Bipartisan Gun Background Check Bill?]

We also know that in states that have closed the private sale loophole, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by their spouses and intimate partners. And background checks work: According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, in 2012 38 people were stopped from buying a gun in Colorado because they had previously committed a "homicide."

This loophole is an enormous public safety problem.  A national survey of inmates found that nearly 80  percent of those who used a handgun in a crime acquired it from a private seller. And an estimated 40  percent of all gun sales in this country are private sales.

Gun violence is a problem nationwide, and sadly Colorado has been at the forefront of such tragedies. We believe Colorado has found a balance between protecting the Second Amendment and ensuring the protection of our citizens. Law abiding citizens have the right to own a gun, but we need to prevent dangerous people from buying firearms.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Should Congress Support Universal Background Checks for Gun Purchases?]

We approached this effort united in our belief that doing nothing wasn't an option. Two of us are members of a club no one wants to be in: families who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Our third co-author, Mayor Sloan, a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, wanted to protect her community and others from the heartbreaking cost of gun violence.

It wasn't easy, but we got it done. If Colorado's citizens and legislators can do it, Congress can and should pass gun safety laws. It's time. Demand action.