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Colorado company threatens to leave state if gun bill passes

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Feb. 15, 2013: House members gather in their Chamber at the Capitol in Denver. (AP)

A package of gun control measures that won initial approval in Colorado's Democratic-controlled House Friday night could result in several hundred jobs lost at the state's largest manufacturer of high-capacity ammunition magazines.

Erie-based Magpul Industries has threatened to leave the state if lawmakers are successful in passing the sweeping gun-control package, which limits the number of rounds a magazine can hold, according to The Denver Post.

"If we're able to stay in Colorado and manufacture a product, but law-abiding citizens of the state were unable to purchase the product, customers around the state and the nation would boycott us for remaining here," Doug Smith, Magpul's chief operating officer, told The Post.

The bill limits magazines to 15 rounds, with a more restrictive eight-round limit for shotguns. The bill makes an exception for magazines that people already have in their possession.

The legislation would require manufacturers to engrave magazines with serial numbers and dates -- a requirement Smith believes is "burdensome and unnecessary," The Post reported.

Magpul, which employs some 200 people directly and supports about 400 jobs through subcontractors, expects to contribute nearly $85 million to Colorado's economy this year, according to The Post.

Testifying before a state House committee Tuesday, Smith said he feared the proposal would hurt his businesses and restrict future expansions and warned the state could lose millions in tax revenues.

Smith said an ammunition limit “will not improve public safety, will not reduce crime, and would endanger the lives of Colorado residents by unduly restricting their ability to defend themselves.” “Arguments to the contrary are based purely on emotion and not facts,” he added.

Although the bill has been amended to exempt manufacturers, Magpul still plans to leave the state if the measure banning high-capacity magazines passes.

"We can't disappoint our customers nor ignore our convictions. Anyone who votes in favor of this bill votes to drive over 600 jobs out of [Colorado]," the company said in a post on its Facebook page Thursday.

Prior to Friday's vote, Vice President Joe Biden personally phoned four lawmakers from his ski vacation in the state to speed along the emotional debate.

Biden phoned three freshmen legislators along with Democratic House Speaker Mark Ferrandino. The calls came amid a long debate over the proposals, including expanded background checks and ammunition limits -- responses to mass shootings, including the killings at a Colorado movie theater.

In all, the House gave the initial OK to four bills after a daylong debate. The preliminary votes set up final actions on the measures Monday.

The Democratic gun-control package that advanced also includes banning concealed weapons on public college campuses, and requiring that gun buyers pay for their background checks.

Colorado's votes capping magazine sizes and expanding required background checks to private sales came amid 12 hours of debate. The votes were preliminary and unrecorded, but they were the first chance for many lawmakers to debate gun control after mass shootings last year in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

"These high-capacity weapons have no place outside the fields of war," said Rep. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who sponsored the ammunition bill.

Republicans spent hours arguing that the limit violates Second Amendment rights.

"We are not safer by limiting the constitutional rights of law-abiding firearm owners," said Republican Rep. Frank McNulty.

A few Democrats appeared to agree Friday, though an exact vote count won't be known until recorded votes are taken Monday. GOP leaders were hoping gun activists would spend the weekend pressuring rural Democrats like Rep. Ed Vigil of southern Colorado, the only Democrat who argued Friday against any ammunition limit.

"We should be going down the path of making mental health available to people who really need it," Vigil argued.

The gun debate was at times emotional and pointed. One gun lobbyist was asked to leave the Capitol after a heated exchange off the floor with a Republican lawmaker who said the lobbyist was falsely accusing her of considering voting for the gun-control measures. The gallery was at times packed with gun-rights activists.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has said favors some of the gun-control measures. Hickenlooper supports expanded background checks and indicated Thursday that he could support a potential amendment on magazine sizes, if the restriction was between 15 and 20 rounds.

He also said he thinks gun purchasers should pay for their background checks, but he had not made up his mind yet about the ban on concealed firearms on colleges.

All of the proposals still need to be considered by Democrat-controlled Senate.

Democrats in the Legislature said the time is right to limit gun access and magazine sizes to prevent more shootings.

"This is about kids who have been shot, over and over and over again," said Democratic Rep. Crisanta Duran said. "I am tired of seeing kids die, year after year, after year, after year."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Click here for more from The Denver Post.