Democratic Congresswoman Diana DeGette spent time in her Colorado district last week — including the newly added South Jeffco areas — and she brought plenty of controversy with her.
DeGette fielded issues ranging from the legalization of marijuana to federal budget cuts, but gun control, which has been a hot topic at the federal level and at the Colorado statehouse, dominated the week’s headlines.
Much of South Jeffco was absorbed into the Denver-centric 1st Congressional District with redistricting in 2011. DeGette, who has represented the 1st District since 1996, is the chief deputy whip for the Democrats in the U.S. House, and the Colorado native has been a prominent voice in the debate over firearms restrictions.
DeGette said she wanted to make sure her new constituents in South Jeffco knew they could contact her with issues and concerns, and that she is planning events in the new parts of her district.
DeGette has been an outspoken participant in the gun control debate, and she is the primary sponsor of a bill that would limit ammunition magazines to only 10 rounds.
DeGette said that while more needs to be done to prevent mentally ill people from having access to firearms and to expand access to mental health services, she cites mass shootings like the Aurora theater massacre as a reason to ban high-capacity ammunition magazines.
“We also need to look at the weapons themselves. It’s like I say, that shooter in the Aurora theater — he had a 100-round magazine on that gun. He shot 70 people in 90 seconds, and it jammed,” DeGette said. “If it hadn’t jammed, he would have probably shot 100 people. The question is, ‘Is there something you can do with these weapons to keep them out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill?’ “
But after a gun control forum in Denver last week, DeGette came under intense criticism when her comments about ammunition magazines indicated a lack of knowledge about their use and the fact that they can be reloaded. DeGette said her bill to ban high-capacity magazines eventually would solve the problem, as the magazines currently in circulation would be used and then disposed of.
But because most ammunition magazines can be reloaded with additional rounds, opponents of DeGette’s bill criticized her for sponsoring legislation without understanding the basics of the issue.
“The gun lobby takes every opportunity to intimidate, and attempt to silence, anyone who stands up to fight to make our families safer. They have done it for decades and this week, as I continued my pursuit of common-sense gun violence prevention, I found myself in their sights,” DeGette said. “While perhaps in-artfully stated in the moment of exchange, my position remains clear. If a high-capacity magazine ban is put in place, there would be a reduction of magazines in circulation, simply because they would no longer be available for lawful purchase. “
While DeGette said she believes a majority of Americans support restrictions such as universal background checks and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines, there hasn’t been any meaningful resolutions passed on gun control because of the influence of the National Rifle Association in Washington, D.C.
“What has to happen is the regular citizens, the moms and dads of America, have to make this an issue and put the pressure on their elected officials,” DeGette said.
DeGette has been an outspoken opponent of automatic federal budget cuts known as “sequestration,” having voted against the measure requiring the reductions if Congress failed to reach agreement on spending cutbacks and tax increases.
“The sequester basically affects everything. I voted against the sequester. I was one of the few who did,” DeGette said.
DeGette points to millions in federal funds that Colorado is currently losing due to the automatic spending cuts that affect everything from education to childhood vaccines.
“We do need to balance the budget. I’m concerned about the deficit and the debt. But you can’t do it overnight, given the financial disaster,” DeGette said. “I would support sitting down in a bipartisan way.”
Any solution must include new revenues to go along with any cuts to social programs and federal entitlement payments, DeGette said.
DeGette for the past two years has sponsored a bill with Colorado Republican Mike Coffman that would let state laws supersede federal ones when it comes to the legality of marijuana.
Colorado residents voted last November to legalize possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana, after voting to legalize medical marijuana in 2010.
While the outlook for the bill isn’t good in the House, DeGette said, that might change if the federal government begins to crack down on states that have legalized marijuana.
“It’s kind of an edgy topic,” DeGette said. “States’ rights isn’t an edgy concept, but marijuana is a little edgy to people. What I think will happen is the bill will sit there and, if the federal government started to take any action against the states, then I think you’ll see some real interest in passing the legislation.”
Contact Ramsey Scott at email@example.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter for breaking news @RamseyColumbine.