DENVER | No state may be better positioned to enact sweeping gun-control laws this year than Colorado, but as state Democrats are discovering, nothing is every easy when it comes to the firearms issue.
What should have been a shining moment for the Democratic legislative leadership — last week’s much anticipated rollout of a proposed package of eight gun bills — instead landed with something of a thud. Rather than embracing the effort, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, released a statement afterward saying he would study the issue.
Analysts quickly pointed out that the centerpiece, a proposed bill creating strict liability for gun manufacturers, retailers and owners, conflicted with a 2005 federal law. One rural Democratic lawmaker reportedly called the idea “crazy.”
“The governor and lots of Democrats are taking a hands-off position,” Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli said. “They’re saying they want to see what the bills say, which is political speak for, ‘I want to see how this plays.’”
The tepid reception comes in a state that by most measures should be embracing gun control. Not only did Colorado go heavily blue in November, backing President Obama and installing a Democratic majority in both legislative houses, but it’s also the site of two of the nation’s most notorious mass shootings, including the Aurora theater massacre just six months ago.
But polls show most Coloradans may not be ready to jump on the gun-limits bandwagon. A survey released Jan. 20 by The Denver Post showed that 50 percent of those polled favored “protecting the right of Americans to own guns,” compared with 45 percent who backed “controlling gun ownership.”
Instead of passing new laws, 56 percent of those polled said they favored “stricter enforcement of existing laws.” Just 35 percent said they wanted to see stricter laws passed.
Advocates of gun rights have intensified their opposition to the Colorado package. Two days after the proposed bills were unveiled, National Rifle Association President David Keene hit Denver to meet with the governor, Democratic legislative leaders and local media.
Aside from the strict-liability idea, the proposed bills include universal background checks and a ban on ammunition magazines with 10 rounds or more. Versions of those bills are expected to be introduced in state legislatures nationwide, said Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
She said the number of gun bills has skyrocketed this year. In the first half of January, 177 gun-control bills were introduced at the state level, compared with 48 such proposals at the same time a year ago.
“I’m tracking as many bills now as I usually have by the end of the session,” Ms. Cutilletta said.
Colorado Republicans also have introduced a rash of gun-related bills aimed at improving public safety by increasing access to firearms, notably among school staff. Nobody expects any of those to pass, House Minority Leader Mark Waller said.
“There’s not a lot of hope out there that we’ll be able to expand the Second Amendment this year,” he said. “Our absolute strategy this year is to make sure we do no more harm to the Second Amendment.”