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Strong Words, Somber Mood At The Capitol Following Gun Bills Signature, Clements Shooting

Bente Birkeland

Governor John Hickenlooper signed a trio of gun control bills Wednesday, just hours after news broke that Colorado’s top corrections officer had been gunned down in his home.

While the moment was overshadowed by the news of Tom Clements death, gun rights groups say they will use the gun legislation as part of a campaign to try and remove Democrats from power.

Democratic representative Rhonda Fields of Aurora has been front and center of the gun debate. She represents the district where the Aurora theater shooting took place and her own son was murdered. She says gun violence is a problem nationwide, and Colorado has been home to too many tragedies.

“We must do what we can to reduce the frequency and the impact of these horrible events,” Fields said.

She sponsored the legislation limiting the size of high-capacity magazines and increasing background checks. Governor John Hickenlooper called for universal background checks during his state of the state address, but says he was ambivalent about limiting magazines to just 15 rounds.

“On any difficult piece of legislation, there’s pluses and minuses and costs and benefits. We wanted to make sure the benefits outweighed the costs and they clearly do,” said Hickenlooper.

One of those costs includes the loss of Magpul. The company is the state’s largest manufacturer of ammunition magazines. They’ve announced they are leaving Colorado in wake of the bill’s passage.

“Those are 200 people that go to work every day,” Hickenloper said. “And if Magpul decides they do have to leave, that’s a hardship, that’s difficult.”

"Our organization and gun owners around the state are going to destroy the Democrat caucus."

Even with so much opposition to the gun bills, Democratic senate president John Morse of Colorado Springs believes the measures are what the majority of Coloradans want. “And yes criminals will always find ways around laws but that doesn’t mean we should surrender to them,” said Morse.

Republicans are blasting Democrats for being out of touch.

“These guys they don’t like firearms, they don’t like gun owners, they don’t respect gun owners, and that shows,” said Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray). “And I think most of Colorado agrees with us.”

Hundreds of gun rights activists had packed the state capitol to testify against the gun control measures. The firearms coalition, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners plans to pour money into the general election to unseat Democrats who support gun control.

“Governor Hickenlooper and the Democrats in the legislature just handed us a sledgehammer,” said Dudley Brown, the group’s executive director. “And we get to wade through their china shop in the 2014 elections. Our organization and gun owners around the state are going to destroy the Democrat caucus.”

While the political rhetoric was out in full force, the mood at the capitol from both sides was somber, in the wake of the deadly shooting of the head of the state’s prison system. Tom Clements was gunned down Tuesday night when he opened the front door of his home in Monument.

The Governor says he’d never worked with a better person and can’t imagine his team without him. Authorities say they have no motive for the shooting and Hickenlooper says he doesn’t think the shooting is tied to gun control.

“Tom Clements was somebody who worked in what is oftentimes a cold dark world, with an open and generous heart. I think it’s a coincidence, but an incredibly sad and tragic coincidence,” said Hickenlooper.

Two other gun bills are still making their way through the legislature. A bill to require domestic violence offenders to surrender their guns, and a bi-partisan bill to ban online only training for concealed weapons permits.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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