DENVER - The battle over new firearm restrictions intensified in Colorado on Monday as hundreds of gun rights supporters crammed the state Capitol and circled the building with car horns blaring, while inside the husband of former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords urged lawmakers to pass universal background checks.
Colorado has become a focus point in the national debate over what new laws, if any, are needed to prevent gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings, including an attack at a suburban Denver movie theater last summer - a massacre that brought to mind the Columbine High School shooting of 1999 for many in the state and across the nation.
Lawmakers in the politically moderate state are considering a package of gun control measures, including plans that would limit the size of ammunition magazines and expand background checks to include private sales and online purchases.
Retired astronaut and Navy captain Mark Kelly told lawmakers that he and his wife support the Second Amendment, but he said the right to bear arms shouldn't extend to criminals and the mentally ill.
"When dangerous people get guns, we are all vulnerable," Kelly said.
Kelly has testified before Congress in support of gun control measures. Giffords, a former Democratic congresswoman from Tucson, was severely wounded in a mass shooting in January 2011 while meeting with constituents.
Gun control opponents say the proposals will not reduce violence. They say lawmakers should focus on strengthening access to mental health services for people who could be dangerous to communities.
The commotion at the Capitol underscored the attention the debate has generated nationally from gun rights groups, such as the National Rifle Association, to victims' families and White House officials.
There were so many people at the statehouse that an audio speaker system was set up outside so dozens of gun rights supporters waiting to testify could follow the hearings.
Several bills before state senators already have cleared the House. And because Democrats control both chambers of the state Legislature, the proposals have a strong chance of passing.
The proposal expanding background checks advanced Monday and could come before the full Senate this week. Another measure that picked up initial Senate approval would place new restrictions on gun ownership by people convicted in domestic violence cases.
The state's Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, supports magazine limits and expanded background checks. He hasn't indicated where he stands on other measures, including whether he supports a proposal that would hold sellers and owners of assault weapons liable for shootings by such firearms.
The package of bills was expected to keep lawmakers at work late into the night.
During a Senate hearing, Kelly compared the different background check requirements for private and retail sales to having two different lines at the airport, one with security and one without.
"Which one do you think the terrorist is going to choose?" he asked.