Hart recognized for work on human rights | A LOOK BACK

Gun Rights

Forty Years Ago This Week: Colorado U.S. Sen. Gary Hart received a human rights citation from the Commission on International Jewish Affairs for his outspoken support of Soviet Jews.

Bobbie Towbin of the CIJA noted that nearly 400,000 Jews in the USSR were being denied exit visas and that the Democratic senator had worked diligently to open lines of communication with the Soviet Union so that the Jews would be allowed to emigrate.

“The Soviet Union has a long history of anti-Semitism,” Towbin said. “The current Jewish population in the Soviet Union is being used as a bargaining chip. If they think they have something to gain in international relations, they will let the Jews emigrate. The Soviet Jews who want to leave that country are unlike the dissidents who publicly advocate changes in Soviet government. The Jews have done nothing illegal; they are pawns.”

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Towbin, a Denver resident, said that the Reagan administration didn’t enjoy as good of relations with the Soviet Union as had Carter’s.

“At least there was a dialogue without the rhetoric,” Townbin said.

Hart was personally involved in trying to assist several Soviet Jews, including Professor Nahum Neiman, a 72-year-old scholar who’d been trying to emigrate to Boulder where his daughter lived.

“I have been working to make sure human rights are made a part of all talks between the U.S. and the Soviet Union,” Hart told reporters.

During the congressional session, Hart had introduced a resolution urging Neiman’s release.

Thirty Years Ago: A World War II veteran and former commander of the Colorado National Guard, Ret. Brigadier General Felix “Larry” Sparks, spent much of the state’s legislative session at the capitol advocating for his organization; Parents United—No Children’s Handguns (PUNCH), for gun-control legislation.

Sparks’s 16-year-old grandson had been shot and killed by a 15-year-old Adams County minor in a drive-by shooting.

“I don’t think any child should ever have a gun — except for legitimate, supervised sport shooting at managed shooting ranges,” Sparks said.

Although a host of the gun-control bills had died during the regular session of the General Assembly, Sparks pledged he would return during the summer when an interim committee would begin discussing the problems of children’s access to firearms.

Sparks told The Colorado Statesman that he applauded the action taken by the Aurora City Council to limit juveniles’ access to firearms as “a good start,” but said strong state and federal laws were what was needed long term.

“Cities have limited jurisdiction,” Sparks said,” and can do little more than make illegal firearms possession a misdemeanor. I don’t anticipate a strong federal law as the National Rifle Association has a lot of money to spend in Congress.”

Sparks’s detractors often brought up the argument that ordinances like Aurora’s would not do any good because those who have the drive to get guns will still be able to do so. While Sparks admitted that might be true, there was no way of measuring how many shooting deaths — particularly accidental ones — might be prevented by strong statutes preventing them from falling into children’s hands.

To this end Sparks also supported legislation like a bill that had been sponsored by state Sen. Regis Groff, D-Denver, the previous legislative session that would have required parents to secure firearms so juveniles couldn’t easily access or use them. In 1993, Groff had proposed four gun-control bills, which included a 10-day waiting period for buying a handgun, but none of the measures made it out of the Republican-controlled legislature.

Gov. Roy Romer had indicated to the press that he was considering calling a special session to debate the matter but was waiting to consult with legislative leaders.

Rachael Wright is the author of the Captain Savva Mystery series, with degrees in Political Science and History from Colorado Mesa University, and is a contributing writer to Colorado Politics and The Gazette.

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