Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
Ed Andrieski/Associated Press
DENVER – Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three controversial gun bills Wednesday morning, even as police were searching for the man who shot to death a member of his Cabinet on Tuesday night.
The governor signed bills to require background checks for private gun sales, ban the sale of new ammunition magazines greater than 15 rounds and require gun buyers to pay for their own background checks.
“What we have signed here today are several bills that make our state materially safer in the long run,” Hickenlooper said.
Two more gun bills remain to be debated in the House, but Wednesday’s signatures mark the beginning of the end of an extraordinarily heated debate, even by the standards of the state Capitol. Gun-rights advocates packed into committee hearings that stretched for hours, and drivers circled the Capitol honking their horns for hours when the Senate was voting on the bills. Several legislators received threats of violence.
Legislative leaders didn’t intend to make the session about guns, said Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.
“It was forced upon us by two horrific massacres in one year, one in our own backyard. It’s been an exhausting and emotionally draining session,” Morse said.
Hickenlooper signed the bills eight months to the day after the Aurora movie-theater massacre.
He also signed the bills about 12 hours after his director of the Department of Corrections, Tom Clements, was shot to death when he answered the door at his Monument home Tuesday night.
“I think it’s a coincidence, but an incredibly tragic and sad coincidence, that we have to process all this in a single day,” Hickenlooper said.
The governor also said he would issue a “signing statement” along with the 15-round magazine ban, to address concerns that the new law could be interpreted as banning almost all magazines.
Attorney General John Suthers asked Hickenlooper for the signing statement. Gun-rights advocates have pledged to sue the state over the law.
“We’re going to suggest the interpretation of these laws in a very narrow sense,” Hickenlooper said.
In the statement, Hickenlooper noted that other states have bans on larger magazines, and gun-makers have been able to continue to sell their products in those states.
The governor directed his Department of Public Safety to write instructions for law enforcement on how to properly and narrowly enforce the bill.
That didn’t impress Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, an outspoken opponent of the gun legislation.
“A signing statement that would have mattered? Veto,” Brophy said.
Brophy alleged that Democrats “don’t know anything about firearms.”
“They don’t like gun owners. They don’t respect gun owners,” Brophy said.
Both sides asserted that public opinion is on their side, and Brophy thinks both Hickenlooper and legislative Democrats are in danger of losing their re-election campaigns next year.
“The real solution here is going to be at the ballot box in 2014,” Brophy said.
Democrats say most Coloradans support the bills, especially universal background checks. Polls back up their claim.
“These are laws a majority of Colorado citizens wanted, and we worked very hard to make them a reality,” Morse said.
But Hickenlooper acknowledged that there’s a split in opinion between urban and rural Colorado. County sheriffs oppose the new laws, while police chiefs support them.
“That’s part of that urban-rural divide that I intend to work very hard to mend. This shouldn’t be urban versus rural. We are all one state,” Hickenlooper said.
Two more gun bills remain. One would take guns from certain domestic violence suspects, and the other would require in-person training to get a concealed weapons permit.
Democrats also announced a bill to add more mental-health information into the state’s background-check database, but they have not introduced it yet.