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New Colorado School Shooting: The Gun Debate Goes On

5 years ago
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Almost 11 years after the Columbine High School shootings shook the nation, Colorado -- among other places -- continues to struggle with gun rights, gun regulations and gun violence.

Tuesday, a 32-year-old man intruded on a suburban Denver middle school three miles from Columbine High School, shooting and wounding two students before he was subdued by three staff members and arrested. The same day, the Colorado State University Board of Governors enacted a concealed weapons ban on its campuses.

For Eileen McCarron, president of the lobbying group Colorado Ceasefire, the CSU gun ban was a victory. The shootings at Dear Creek Middle School in Littleton, southwest of Denver, were a reminder that her group's gun safety efforts have a long way to go. In September 2006, a gunman killed one of six hostages after releasing the others at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colo.

"This is the third one" in Colorado, McCarron said. "There are a lot of irresponsible people with guns."

The Columbine High School shootings in April 1999, in which two students killed a dozen of their peers and a teacher before turning their guns on themselves, put Colorado -- and its gun laws -- in the national spotlight.

At the time, the Legislature was considering bills to weaken the state's concealed permit and other gun laws, as the National Rifle Association prepared for its annual convention in Denver. Ultimately, the General Assembly set the gun bills aside. And the NRA canceled the gun show portion of its convention.

The following year, gun safety advocates worked for a law to require background checks for sales at gun shows, where the Columbine shooters got some of their weapons. When that effort failed in the Legislature, proponents, including then-Gov. Bill Owens, a Republican, took it to the ballot, with 70 percent of the voters approving the measure.

Since then, virtually every legislative session has featured showdowns between gun rights advocates, such as the NRA, and gun safety advocates, like McCarron. Most measures result in a stalemate, from safe gun storage measures to attempts at weakening background checks.

There've been two exceptions. McCarron's group won a victory when lawmakers agreed to include people adjudicated as mentally ill in the federal background check registry.

Last year, gun rights advocates scored a temporary win with a bill to allow concealed-gun permit holders to buy weapons without background checks. But Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, citing, among other factors, overwhelming voter approval for gun show checks.

Gun rights advocates also have taken the fight to college campuses in Colorado and around the country. They say allowing permit holders, who typically undergo handgun training and background checks, to carry guns on campus would provide defense against shootings, such as the 2007 Virginia Tech rampage by a mentally ill student that left 33 dead and the shootings at an Alabama faculty meeting earlier this month.

Colorado State, with campuses in Fort Collins and Pueblo, was among only a few public universities in the nation that allowed students to carry concealed weapons on campus. Utah is the only state that allows guns on campus. CSU student groups and the Larimer County sheriff, where Fort Collins is located, opposed the weapons ban. Larimer Sheriff Jim Alderdeen told NPR he wouldn't jail anyone found guilty of violating the ban. Still, the CSU board approved the ban unanimously, with no discussion.

One gun rights group is threatening to sue CSU over the ban. A judge dismissed a similar suit against the University of Colorado system last May.

McCarron will continue fighting for a national law requiring background checks at gun shows and universal background checks for any sale to "stop the feeding of guns to people who shouldn't have them." But she isn't looking for a ban.

"I don't believe that we should get rid of guns," McCarron said. "People enjoy them for sporting and a lot of people feel they need them for safety. I can agree with that."

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