Gun policy: Democrats to push bill requiring fees for firearm background checks

Since the shootings in Connecticut that left twenty elementary school students dead, there has been an unprecedented surge in Colorado gun sales. The demand is so overwhelming that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation says it needs more money for background checks. And now Democrats in the legislature are planning to push a new law that would require those who want guns to pay a fee for these mandated checks.

Representative Claire Levy, a Democrat in Boulder, has been very active in legislation for stricter gun restrictions -- most recently with her plan for a bill that would ban guns from college buildings. She was quoted in a Denver Post story on Friday about the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's likely plan to ask lawmakers for half a million dollars to help officials more quickly process the huge backlog of background checks in recent weeks. (There's been an increase in those interested in taking gun classes, too).

In the Post story, Levy suggested that gun buyers should pay a fee for checks to address the growing demands. Currently, there is no such cost for them.

When we caught up with Levy this morning, she told us that she was merely expressing her opinion on the matter and didn't have any plans for specific legislation. But since that story was published, she says she has talked to Representative Lois Court, a Democrat in Denver, who does plan to introduce legislation that would specifically require background check fees.

"The main concern is that we charge everyone else who needs background checks," Levy says, "but gun buyers get it done for free. I think it's a special privilege.... It's a taxpayer subsidy for their hobby.... In these tight budgetary times, we should not be subsidizing their hobbies."

According to Levy, Court is expected to introduce the proposal early in the next session. (We've left a message for Court and will update if we hear back from her.) Levy says it's a matter of priority, and that lawmakers on the Joint budget Committee should not be comfortable with giving CBI more funding for gun background checks -- especially since it would mean sacrificing funding elsewhere.

"What they are basically asking me to do is potentially take money away from another problem," she says, citing the state education fund as an example. "That's something [gun buyers] ought to pay for, and not schoolchildren."

In general, Levy adds, it has been upsetting to see the surge in sales in response to the tragedy. "It's a sad commentary on people's attitudes about gun violence and Second Amendment rights," she explains. "They are afraid that Democrats are going to take away their guns, which we are not going to do. And they say they need to buy guns to protect...their families."

But she adds that assault rifles, which have an increased value in response to the demand, aren't appropriate for self-defense. It is this kind of weapon that was used in the mass shootings at an Aurora theater over the summer and in the Newtown, Connecticut tragedy earlier this month.

"I think it's pretty sad that we react to the shooting buying more guns," she says.

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