DENVER - An emotional Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three sweeping gun control bills into law Wednesday, hours after learning that state corrections Chief Tom Clements had been fatally shot at his home.
The governor called the timing of the bill-signing and Mr. Clements’ death “as far as we know, two completely unrelated subjects.”
“I think it’s a coincidence, but an incredibly tragic and sad coincidence that we have to process all this in a single day,” said Mr. Hickenlooper, a Democrat.
Still, the governor said he believed Mr. Clements would have wanted the signing ceremony to proceed as scheduled. The 58-year-old executive director of the Colorado Department of Corrections was killed after answering the door at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at his home in Monument.
“He would have expected us to sign these bills and go forward today. That’s just the kind of man he was,” Mr. Hickenlooper said.
The three bills, which take effect July 1, would mandate universal background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, require gun buyers to pay for their checks, and ban the sale and transfer of ammunition magazines containing more than 15 rounds.
Approved by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly without any Republican votes, the measures exposed a gaping rift between the ascendant Democratic Party and the state’s Western culture of gun ownership.
The governor signed the bills over the objections of gun-rights advocates, the County Sheriffs of Colorado and Magpul Industries Corp. of Erie, Colo., a $400 million manufacturer of gun accessories. A Magpul official confirmed Wednesday that the company will relocate in reaction to the magazine-limit bill.
The bills drew the support of prominent national Democrats, led by President Obama, who offered his congratulations after the signing ceremony. Colorado becomes the second state, after New York, to approve a package of gun-control measures in the wake of two horrific mass shootings in 2012.
“Huge WIN in Colorado,” said the president on his Twitter feed, retweeting a message from Demand Action to End Gun Violence.
Colorado Republicans had chafed at the influence of Eastern politicians on the gun control debate. Vice President Joseph R. Biden called four Democratic legislators to urge them to support the bills in February, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns, founded by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, had a lobbyist working with state Democrats.
House Minority Leader Mark Waller said he was “obviously disappointed” that the governor had signed the bills “without evidence that they will have any improvement on public safety.”
“I think Mayor Bloomberg and Vice President Biden had significant input on the passage of this legislation,” said House Minority Leader Mark Waller. “We don’t need East Coast politicians telling us how to live our lives in Colorado.”
At a news conference following the bill signing, Mr. Hickenlooper denied that Eastern politicians steered the Colorado debate.
“I understand there are people out there who disagree and are unhappy about this, but this didn’t come from the White House. It had nothing to do with Mayor Bloomberg or Vice President Biden,” Mr. Hickenlooper said. “Certainly the vice president never called me up or lobbied me. He didn’t even call me up and tell me he was going to be calling the legislators.”