March 20, 2013

Colorado one of few victories for gun-control backers

The state's moderate Democratic governor Wednesday will sign landmark bills to require universal background checks and limit magazine capacity.

The Associated Press

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Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper will sign legislation Wednesday that sets limits on ammunition magazines and expands background checks for firearms, marking a Democratic victory in a state where gun ownership is a treasured right and Second Amendment debate has played out in the wake of two mass shootings.

2012 Associated Press File Photo

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A participant in a news conference in favor of proposed gun control legislation holds a poster picturing victims from the Tucson shooting, inside the Colorado State Capitol, in Denver this month.

The Associated Press

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Gov. John Hickenlooper, a moderate who once questioned whether increased gun control would have stopped July's Aurora movie theater massacre, infuriated Republicans when he said he would sign the legislation. Republicans have consistently accused Democrats of being driven by gun control advocate and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other coastal liberals.

"He's more interested in appeasing Bloomberg and East Coast Democrats than he is Colorado," Republican State Sen. Greg Brophy said of Hickenlooper, whom he may challenge in next year's election.

Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist working for a local gun control coalition, disagrees. "The same demographic that determines elections here, that elected Barack Obama, that elected John Hickenlooper, are what's driving this debate," she said. "The voices that are the loudest (in protest) are not the ones that determine elections here."

Colorado became the second state to adopt major gun law changes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January signed what was touted as the nation's toughest gun law, broadening the definition of banned assault weapons and increasing regulations on gun permit holders. Lawmakers in New Jersey, Maryland, Illinois and Connecticut are also pushing gun control legislation. California's Democratic legislature is likely to send new regulations to Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in the coming months. Two months or more remain in several legislative sessions.

Brian Malte, of the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence, said that even in places where gun control has stalled, just getting legislative committees to vote on bills is a victory after years of stasis. "It's not always that bills get passed, it's that they move in places you don't expect," Malte said. "It's a marathon, not a sprint."

In Minnesota, Democrats have already dropped plans to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and are struggling to get universal background checks out of the state legislature. Biden last week called lawmakers there to encourage action and rally dispirited Democrats.

"I'm at a loss to understand what is objectionable about extending that to other gun sellers and actually putting them on the same playing field with licensed gun dealers who are required to do background checks," Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said.

Democrats withdrew proposals to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in Oregon but are still considering legislation to ban firearms in the state capitol and schools that don't explicitly allow them, as well as to expand background checks. However, Democratic leaders there have said gun control is not a top priority.

In Colorado, Republicans say the battle is just starting. They are pushing recalls against one rural Democrat who voted for the gun bills, mulling a ballot measure to repeal them, considering lawsuits to challenge their constitutionality and vowing an all-out push to take back the legislature in 2014. "I'm telling you, they have overreached, and there are going to be electoral consequences," Brophy said.

Chapin argued that gun rights groups don't understand the realities of a world where gun massacres are intruding into the suburbs. "The geography of gun tragedy has changed," she said. "When you've got suburban moms who are scared to send their kids to schools or movie theaters, this is not just happening somewhere else anymore."


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