Gun control advocates say they were not taken aback by recent comments by Gov. John Hickenlooper that initially indicated a back-pedaling of his support for a key piece of gun legislation from last year.
“Words are one thing, but I'm action-based,” said Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the July 2012 Aurora Theater shooting. “In the signing of the gun bills last year, the actions of the governor showed me exactly where he is on this — that he's firmly with us on common sense laws.”
But others point to Hickenlooper's recent remarks to a group of sheriffs — followed by an interview in which he sought to clarify those comments — as an example of failed leadership.
“We don't need excuses and we don't (need) different versions of the story,” said Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker. “I don't need apologies. I need a new governor.”
The governor created a media firestorm after he acknowledged to a group of county sheriffs who were meeting June 13 in Aspen that he had been conflicted about signing a law that placed bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Hickenlooper told the sheriffs that he signed the legislation — which banned the sale of magazines that hold more than 15 rounds — after a member of his “staff made a commitment” to signing it, according to video footage of the governor's comments, which were obtained by the conservative website, Revealing Politics.
The governor also said that he did not speak with former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg — a key financial backer of gun control measures — about the legislation. But phone records obtained by other media outlets show that calls between the two did in fact take place.
A week after the fallout over his remarks, Hickenlooper clarified his comments and reaffirmed his commitment to the legislation.
“If we went through the process again, I'd sign it again,” he told KDVR in an interview that aired on June 20.
Hickenlooper also said in the interview that he made the decision to sign the legislation more than a month before the bill reached his desk and he acknowledged that he did speak with Bloomberg, but only after the governor's mind was made up.
Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who sponsored the legislation in the House, told Colorado Community Media that she received no assurances from the governor's office that he was planning on signing her bill.
“I never had any assurance that my bills would pass,” she said. “It's just too much of a sensitive issue for someone to make that kind of declaration.”
Fields said she has been “pleased with what the governor has done to pass these measures” and that she's not concerned with the events from last week.
“My reaction overall is that I'm really proud of the work we've been able to achieve in Colorado in regard to gun safety measures,” Fields said. “We're setting the tone for what other states are doing on this issue and the measures we took were very common sense.”
Republicans don't think that's the case at all. Not a single Republican voted for the magazine ban at the Legislature in 2013. This year, they unsuccessfully failed to repeal that and a separate law that created universal background checks on gun sales.
House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, took issue with Hickenlooper telling county sheriffs that he had no idea that the bills would be so controversial.
“Prior to his signature, there were hundreds of people including sheriffs from around the state testifying at the Capitol in opposition to these gun control bills,” DelGrosso said. “I would think testimony from law enforcement along with thousands of protestors and hundreds of thousands of emails would have shown Governor Hickenlooper these gun control bills were controversial.”
Holbert, who is leaving the House to run for a state Senate seat, sponsored the repeal effort in the House this year. He believes that Hickenlooper, who is running for re-election this year, has hurt himself on this issue many times and that it will cost him, politically.
“There are now two or three versions of this story,” Holbert said. “But who made (the) decision? Did the governor make a decision as a leader or was it a staffer? Is he beholden to a staffer? And who is this staffer?
“No one could have hurt John Hickenlooper more than John Hickenlooper.”
But what happened last week was just all noise in the minds of key gun control supporters.
“He signed the bills into the law and since that time it has saved lives,” Sullivan said. “I don't see any of these (gun laws) as road blocks. I see them as see them as speed bumps, to slow the process down a little, to make us safer in a common sense way.”