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Gun bill to require background checks: "Enough is enough," says Rhonda Fields

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With President Obama unveiling sweeping gun control proposals and New York swiftly passing the nation's toughest gun laws, it's time for Colorado to push forward with its own legislation to curb violence. At least that's the thinking of Representative Rhonda Fields, who next week will introduce a bill that requiring background checks for all private gun sales. And she says she is more optimistic than ever that it could pass.

"People are sick and tired of the bloodshed," says Fields, a Democrat who represents Aurora. "I really praise the president for taking a stand on gun violence.... It's a huge validation and it causes me to be very optimistic. I might have a good chance of passing legislation."

Fields is one of several local lawmakers in Colorado who are backing gun-related legislation in the wake of the elementary school shooting in Connecticut last month that left twenty children and six adults dead. But even before that tragedy, Colorado was poised to have a contentious gun debate this legislative session, in part because Governor John Hickenlooper signaled that the time was right for such a debate nearly six months after July's Aurora theater shooting.

Since the legislative session began last week, there have already been several new developments on this subject. Hickenlooper, in his State of the State address, supported universal background checks -- and at the same time, Republican lawmakers are promoting a controversial bill allowing permitted employees to bring guns into schools.

Fields has been planning to introduce some sort of gun control legislation since the Aurora theater shooting. The topic is personal for her: She lost her son to gun violence in 2005.

"Because I'm a crime victim, I'm constantly reminded of my past and my own experience," she says. "And as a crime victim, it's very reassuring to hear the President of the United States say that he wants to do something to address gun violence. It felt reassuring."

Fields is drafting a bill that would make it mandatory for individuals buying guns to go through background checks. Currently, she explains, Colorado law doesn't require that buyers pass these checks if the sale is done privately.

If her bill passed, it would mean that individuals couldn't simply buy guns online through Craigslist or other websites, thereby avoiding background checks.

"Everyone who wants to have a gun is eligible for it," she says of her proposal. "They are not a felon. They are not someone who is a violent domestic abuser...or someone who is dangerous."

Continue for more of our interview with Representative Rhonda Fields. Fields says, "I think most people would agree that you should require a background check to be able to possess a gun. We already have federal regulations when you buy a gun in a store.... Why shouldn't it be required for private sales?... It's just a loophole I would like to close."

Having support from the governor is key, she says. "He has already taken a leadership role...and I think Colorado in its own way will take on a leadership role to address gun violence."

Hickenlooper, in an announcement a few days after the Connecticut shooting, unveiled a comprehensive mental health system overhaul that has already earned him national recognition.

For her part, Fields says she is proud of what New York has accomplished with its strict gun measures and hopes that Colorado can follow suit.

"What my legislation does is keep guns out of the hands of criminals," Fields says. "If we can keep one gun out of the hands of one dangerous person who would hurt another child, it's worth it."

She says she is also exploring possible legislation to limit high-capacity magazines. But she definitely plans to introduce her background-check bill, likely next week.

Public opinion is shifting in the wake of the elementary school shooting, she maintains.

In her words, "People are saying, 'Enough is enough with the bloodshed already.' These victims are everywhere."

More from our Politics archive: "Guns for Everyone to host pro-gun rally at Capitol to mark start of legislative session"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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