A decade of Colorado gun control legislation, pushback and hesitation

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by Sentinel Colorado and was shared via AP StoryShare. It was written by Kara Mason. Mason works as an editor and editor.

Governor John Hickenlooper addresses the public on Sunday evening, July 22 at the Aurora Municipal Center. Aurora community supporters gathered for a prayer vigil in honor of the victims of the massacre. (Marla R. Keown/Aurora Sentinel)

By Kara Mason,

Senator John Hickenlooper, then governor of Colorado, arrived in Aurora on the morning of July 20, 2012 to review the scene of the theater shooting where 12 people had been murdered hours earlier. He vividly remembers the video the police took of the theater and the debris.

“There was popcorn everywhere. You could see blood on the seats. And there was no one there, which somehow made it scarier. he recalls a decade later.

In the days following the shooting, Hickenlooper, along with then-Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan and former President Barack Obama, made it a priority to meet and visit with survivors and families. deaths.

Then, as often, the conversation turned to legislation.

The in-theater shooting was a catalyst for lawmakers to act against gun violence, though they faced a backlash at almost every turn. In addition to security threats — then-Democratic Party Chairman Morgan Carroll, who was a state senator representing Aurora, received nine credible threats in the next legislative session — opponents also warned they would end their political career.

In 2013, opponents of gun control legislation delivered on their promise to call back sitting lawmakers who signed bills limiting gun magazines to 15 rounds and requiring universal background checks on gun sales. Sen. Angela Giron and Senate Speaker John Morse, both Democrats from southern Colorado, were recalled after an influx of cash and a campaign by the gun lobby. Later, Democratic Senator Evie Houdak resigned her seat.

For years, according to Democratic state leaders, these recall efforts have had a chilling effect on the fight against gun legislation, even though polls have shown they have the public opinion of their side and that friendly donors, such as Michael Bloomberg, were ready to step in and help.

“If the whole community really voted on it, I don’t really think those people would have been called back. But because state law was designed so you could recall for any reason or no reason at all, and the calculations that trigger a recall happen at an irregular time, with no real campaign apparatus to boost voter turnout, you have an intense minority of people who were able to subvert the will of the majority of voters, abusing, in my view, the recall process,” Carroll says.

Ultimately, there were questions about whether the recalls really boiled down to opinions about gun laws, but that didn’t stop Democrats from putting the brakes on gun legislation.

“The general assembly, like any organization, has a personality. It is the overall personality of all people in the Senate and the House and when they see two very good senators retired during a recall, I think it makes everyone a little more cautious. said Hickenlooper.

Giffords, a gun control advocacy group, says that thanks to some measures, Colorado has made significant progress in passing laws that are supposed to prevent dangerous shooting. Universal background checks, extreme risk protection orders, domestic violence gun laws, a child access prevention law, and extended periods of background checks are all part of it. of what the state “does well”.

“I think Colorado has done a lot and we know that states with strong gun laws have fewer gun deaths than states with weak gun laws,” said Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords.

Still, the state has seen gun purchases increase over the past two years, non-fatal shootings have increased 136% between 2019 and 2021 in Aurora, and a handful of mass shootings have occurred throughout the state since 2013, including last year at a Boulder grocery store where a 21-year-old gunman killed 10 people.

“Colorado has done a better job…but that still doesn’t diminish the fact that we see more shootings, more mass shootings, every year,” said Hickenlooper. “I think there is a culture of violence. There are so many guns in the systems, and even if we stop all gun buying tomorrow, even then there is this culture of violence. Other countries have the same mental health issues, problems and economic cycles that create sources of anxiety for their citizens, but they don’t have these shootings.

Hickenlooper was himself the target of criticism in his own party as a delay in legislation. In the days after the shooting, Hickenlooper told CNN he was skeptical of laws that would have stopped the shooter in Aurora.

“If it wasn’t a weapon, it would have been another, and he was evil,” he said.

Rep. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora Theater shooting, said today that he faces opposition from his party on gun legislation. He was elected a Democrat in 2018, shamelessly running for gun safety legislation.

“Two of the four years I’ve been in the House, we weren’t even allowed to enforce gun laws,” he said. “I’ve had heated conversations with the last two speakers in the Colorado House about why the bills aren’t coming forward. They’re not even monumental (bills)…. It’s like guns lost and stolen, raising the minimum age to purchase an assault rifle. It’s been 22 years since Columbine and we don’t even have a definition of an assault rifle.

This legislative session, Democrats considered enforcing a measure raising the age from 18 to 21 to buy an assault rifle, but a bill never materialized.

That frustration is echoed at the federal level, as many advocates and voters say a recent set of gun bills agreed to in the House and Senate still don’t go far enough. President Joe Biden signed the legislation earlier this month. The bills strengthen background checks on young gun buyers, encourage states to enact red flag laws and include $13 billion to bolster mental health programs.

Looking back on the past decade, Sullivan wonders if Democrats would have had it easier and less hesitant today if they had taken a different approach a decade ago.

“And if in 2013 they had just made two bills? Wouldn’t we have had two senators recalled and one resigned? Wouldn’t we have continued to have the Democratic Party in fear having a daily conversation about prevention because of the impact it’s going to have on their caucus? » he said.

So many people have been affected by gun violence now, Sullivan said he wants Coloradans to watch the legislature and know that work on the issue is happening in the Capitol, just like transportation or education. Even if an invoice does not pass the first time.

“I can learn from this” he said. “But I’m running out of time.”

Despite the frustration, Sullivan is confident the laws passed in Colorado have made a difference.

“The pendulum has swung back and we have saved lives through the work that has been done over the past 10 years. I can tell you that people are alive because of this work,” he said. “Certainly not enough, and we will continue to work on that. But parents are taking in children they probably wouldn’t have if we hadn’t done anything.

Giffords says Colorado still misses the mark on gun owner licenses, assault weapon restrictions, waiting periods, concealed carry laws and open carry regulations, but it’s hard to say whether the hill ahead of the Democrats is steeper than the one before.

“Some of these proposals sound good,” Anderman, with Giffords, said. “So why state politicians don’t bring them in or move them is really a question for them.”

About Michael S. Montanez

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