Hickenlooper backs some gun-control efforts

Gov. John Hickenlooper gives the State of the State address Jan. 10 to senators and representatives in the House Chambers of the State Capitol. The session opened Jan. 9.
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Gov. John Hickenlooper on Feb. 14 said he supports at least a few of the major firearms-related bills that are being sponsored by Democratic state lawmakers, the first time he has done so since the recent unveiling of a controversial gun-control package that is being sponsored by members of his own party.

But Hickenlooper isn't prepared at this time to give his approval to all eight of the bills that Democrats are proposing this legislative session, including ones that would hold gun makers and owners liable for crimes that involved assault weapons, and one that would ban concealed guns on college campuses.

Hickenlooper's comments on those controversial guns issues came during an expansive interview with members of the Capitol press corps, one where the governor also talked about other hot-button issues, such as oil and gas drilling, marijuana regulations, and the possibility of a repeal of the state's death penalty.

The interview took place inside Hickenlooper's office, on the eve of votes in the House of Representatives on four pieces of gun-control legislation.

The governor said he supports three of those four gun measures, including one that would limit the number of rounds that high-capacity ammunition magazines can carry. The current bill would ban magazines that carry more than 15 rounds, but Hickenlooper said that lawmakers “might end up having to compromise.”

“Certainly, there might be a number in there that makes sense,” he said.

Hickenlooper also said he supports a separate bill that would impose a fee on gun buyers' own background checks, which right now is somewhere in the neighborhood of $10.

Hickenlooper acknowledged that his support for the fee is “controversial” and something that he is going to “catch a lot of heat” for, but that it's the right thing to do.

“The folks that are needing … or making use of this regulatory environment, it's not unreasonable for them to pay the cost of that,” the governor said.

Hickenlooper also reiterated his support for background checks for private gun sales and transfers, something he already said he favored during his State of the State speech last month.

However, Hickenlooper was not prepared to voice support for a bill that would ban concealed weapons on college campuses. Nor was he ready to support an assault weapons liability bill that's being worked on by Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs.

Hickenlooper said he wants to see what the final versions of those bills look like, before deciding where he stands.

Republicans have fought Democratic gun-control efforts tooth and nail. And they believe that Democrats will pay a price for overreaching in the 2014 election cycle.

Hickenlooper said he thinks Colorado residents support many gun-control efforts.

“I'm not sure it's anti-guns,” he said. “It's trying to make sure that our community is safer.”

Other key issues

Guns issues aren't the only things on Hickenlooper's mind nowadays. The governor was asked about a recent decision by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to set a 500-foot buffer between wells and homes. Environmental groups want greater distance between homes, while oil and gas groups don't see the need for even 500 feet of separation.

“Which means we're probably in a good place,” he said of both sides being upset. Hickenlooper, who was a geologist before he became a brew pub owner, and then a politician, said he wants to find a balance between environmental concerns, and supporting drilling for “inexpensive” natural gas, which he said has “untold potential.”

And Hickenlooper said the marijuana task force continues to work away at putting in place its recommendations on how best to regulate the industry, now that recreational marijuana use is legal in Colorado. One of the challenges that the task force will have to deal with is implementing safeguards that would keep children from accessing the drug.

“There are serious questions about kids,” Hickenlooper said. “When their minds are still developing, whether this high octane, high THC marijuana that's available. Whether it has the potential to permanently reduce their memory.”

There also are big issues the governor knows he may have to weigh in on soon, but hasn't yet figured out what his positions are. This includes proposed legislation that would ensure collective bargaining rights for firefighters, even when local governments oppose it. The bill, which is being sponsored by Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, has already passed the Senate. But it is similar to one that former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter had once vetoed.

The governor playfully tried to get out of a reporter's question about where he stands on that issue.

“I guess we're out of time, gotta go,” he said to reporters' laughs.

Hickenlooper said he eventually gets to a point where he can “speak with a strong sense of conviction” on these types of issues, but admitted that he's “not there yet on this issue.”

Hickenlooper's also “not there” on whether he will seek to repeal the death penalty.

“I am still wrestling with it,” the governor said. “I don't think there's a day that goes by that.. something doesn't remind me or doesn't make me think about it for a moment....”