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Bills relaxing gun laws pass House, head to governor

DENVER - State lawmakers gave their final approval Friday to two measures expected to ease restrictions on gun owners.

9NEWS Adam Schrager recaps the day's actions on the gun bills, March 14, 2003.

The House passed Senate Bill 24, which will standardize concealed weapons laws across the state. The measure passed by a vote of 46 to 16 with 36 Republicans and 10 Democrats voting for it.

Once signed by Gov. Bill Owens, the new law will authorize eligible citizens 21 and older who pass a criminal background check and demonstrate proficiency with a weapon to obtain a permit and carry concealed handguns in all parts of the state where they are allowed. The exceptions include federal buildings, public schools and secure facilities, such as Denver's City and County Building.

Supporters of SB 24, including the head of the County Sheriffs of Colorado, say it is an improvement over current law since it standardizes training and background checks.

We're not talking about fear here today. We're not talking about anything other than uniformity of our laws, said bill supporter Rep. Ray Rose, R-Montrose.

However, opponents said they would lose the ability to pass stricter local laws.

The officials, the law enforcement in our community believe we have the right to preserve public safety as we see fit, said Rep. Andrew Romanoff, D-Denver.

The House also passed Senate Bill 25, which will do away with all local gun laws. This proposal has generated the most controversy. It passed by a vote of 39 to 24 with 35 Republicans and 4 Democrats supporting it.

Colorado mayors strongly opposed SB 25 and said they would ask Gov. Bill Owens to veto it.

Under SB 25, local governments would be allowed to prohibit gun owners from openly carrying a weapon in specific areas as long as signs were posted.

Both bills have already passed the Senate and are now headed for the governor's desk.

This is the first time since the Columbine High School shootings that major gun rights legislation has passed at the Capitol. The topic remains one of the most divisive at the Capitol and as a result, the governor's spokesman, Dan Hopkins, says the governor is in no rush to sign the bills into law.

This is an issue the governor does take very seriously and that's why he wants to carefully review both bills before taking any action, said Hopkins.

Owens has indicated he supports the concealed-carry permit bill, SB 24, sponsored by Sen. Ken Chlouber, R-Leadville. He has not taken a position on SB 25.

John Head, co-founder of the anti-gun group Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, founded in the wake of the Columbine shootings, urged Owens to veto the bills. He said if the governor signs the bills, the group may reconvene and present a constitutional amendment to the voters.

"We'll dust it off if we have to have an initiative. I think it's a big mistake to pre-empt local control, and it's not good public policy to allow guns to be carried just about anywhere," Head said.

If the bills become law, Colorado will join more than 30 other states that have relaxed their gun laws in recent years.