DENVER — Gun control opponents Friday defeated a bill requiring background checks on all purchases at Colorado gun shows, legislation crafted after the Columbine High School massacre and backed by a pro-gun-rights governor.
The defeat, in a 6 to 5 vote of a key committee of the Colorado House of Representatives, prompted the measure's supporters to vow to take the issue to voters in a November referendum.
The House, however, approved penalties Friday for anyone who buys a gun for someone who cannot legally do so and passed legislation that allows prosecutors to pursue licensed dealers who knowingly sell guns to underage buyers.
Since the Columbine massacre in April, when two teenage gunmen fatally shot 12 fellow students and a teacher before killing themselves, gun control advocates have said they had a good chance to get stricter laws passed this year.
They quoted public opinion polls in the state that showed an overwhelming majority of residents backing criminal background checks for firearm purchases at gun shows. The weapons used in the Columbine attack had been purchased at gun shows by friends of gunmen Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.
But gun control opponents are strong in this state, so the measure was deemed in trouble from the beginning.
Ken Gordon, a Democrat and the House minority leader who sponsored the legislation, said the House Appropriations Committee should have approved the measure so the full House could have voted on it. Instead, it was defeated in committee.
The gun show measure was among the most controversial that Republican Gov. Bill Owens was backing, and the defeat was a blow for him.
But Owens was pleased with his victory in keeping guns away from minors by prosecuting unscrupulous dealers.
"There were important steps the House has taken to reduce the chance of children getting firearms," Owens told reporters.
The governor was supported by the National Rifle Assn. during his 1998 campaign. But he called for stricter laws after the Columbine killings, saying such proposals were reasonable.
"I was supported by a number of gun rights people. There may be fewer of these next time," Owens said.
The gun show bill would have required background checks on all gun purchasers at shows. Currently only federally licensed gun dealers must conduct checks.
At gun shows, a federally licensed dealer may be having a prospective buyer's background checked while at the next table a private dealer is selling guns without checking to see whether the buyer has a criminal record.
Gun rights advocates argue that rules for gun shows should not be different from those for other types of sales. For instance, private sellers are not required to do checks when they sell a weapon from their home.