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Tuesday April 3, 2001

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Gun sellers annoyed by Colorado law

By The Associated Press

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Gun buyers and merchants alike are grumbling about a new state law requiring private sellers to conduct criminal background checks before they sell weapons at gun shows.

"I think it's totally against the Constitution," private seller Don McLemore said as the law took effect Saturday during the Southern Colorado Sportsman and Arms Expo. "If I sell one or two guns ... it'll be outstanding."

In November, 70 percent of Colorado voters approved the measure to close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks of prospective buyers in sales by unlicensed vendors. Only licensed sellers previously had to do the checks.

Gun-rights advocates have been dreading the change, which they say is an erosion of gun-ownership rights. But supporters say the law will help squelch the sale of guns to people with felony convictions.

It took 2 1/2 hours before the first customer of a private seller came to the front of the Arms Expo for his background check.

Lewis Bustos, of Denver, filled out the forms in 30 minutes. Ten minutes and $10 later, he was cleared to buy a .22-caliber rifle.

"The biggest thing is the paperwork," said Bustos, 40. "Before you could just barter, pay and you were out the door."

In all, 39 people submitted to the background checks Saturday and Sunday. Thirty-eight checks came back clean, and one was still pending Sunday night. It was not clear how many of the people checked bought guns.

In two cases, the background checks turned up outstanding warrants for traffic-related violations. In both cases, the buyers were allowed to complete their purchases because the charges were misdemeanors, not felonies. They were then arrested and taken to jail, said Lee Wolford, executive vice president of the Youth Outreach Center, where the expo was held.

"I'm sure there are people who feel like their freedom is being infringed upon," gun seller Jim Washington said. "But if you're honest, it's not going to bother you one bit."

The Colorado Bureau of Investigations spent $500,000 on staff, telephone lines and computer terminals to handle an expected crush of requests for background checks.

"We're beefing up to handle double what we're accustomed to," agent Susan Kitchen said.

The push for the law began after the massacre at Columbine High School, the suburban Denver school where two seniors fatally shot 12 students and a teacher before killing themselves in April 1999.

A friend of the gunmen said she bought three of the four guns used in the shootings at a gun show and was not subjected to a background check.