CENTENNIAL, Colo. — It’s a stark fact that is fueling an already intense debate about gun rights in this state: It was an armed deputy who stopped the Arapahoe High School gunman last week from unleashing a deadly massacre, not the expansive new gun control laws approved by Colorado Democrats in March in reaction to two mass shootings.
That is the increasingly inescapable takeaway as details emerge from the school shooting Friday, when the 18-year-old gunman injured another student at random before turning the gun on himself in the school library as the armed deputy was closing in on him.
“The gun control laws didn’t make a difference,” said state Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican who is seeking his party’s nomination for governor next year. “What made a difference was a person in the building who was armed and who rushed to end the threat.”
Even Gov. John Hickenlooper, the Democrat who signed three gun control bills in March at considerable political risk, acknowledged on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday that the laws “in this specific case aren’t going to make a difference at all.”
The governor and others have credited Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Deputy James Englert, who was assigned to the school, with forcing the gunman’s hand by rushing toward the library, shouting at bystanders to get back, and identifying himself as law enforcement.
Eighty seconds after entering the school, the shooter killed himself. The deputy’s response “was a critical element in the shooter’s decision to take his own life,” said Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson.
The gunman, senior Karl Pierson, shot 17-year-old Claire Davis as she sat in the hallway. She is listed in critical condition and in a coma after undergoing surgery for a head wound.
Pierson had called out the name of the school’s librarian and debate team coach, but information released Tuesday indicates that he was planning to do more than attack one faculty member. In addition to a 12-gauge shotgun, he carried about 125 rounds of ammunition, three Molotov cocktails and a machete.
On his arm, he had written in indelible ink five classroom numbers and a phrase in Latin that translates to “the die has been cast,” according to the sheriff’s office.
“I believe he came to have a massacre at the school, and I thank God that Englert was there to stop him,” parent Cathleen Cancannon told Denver’s 7News.
Democrats pushed three gun control bills through the state legislature in reaction to two mass shootings last year over the objections of Republicans, who predicted the measures would do nothing to prevent such tragedies.
Tom Mauser, a spokesman for Colorado Ceasefire, said the newly enacted laws are important from a public-safety standpoint even if they failed to stop the Arapahoe gunman.
“It’s not a claim that these gun laws are going to stop any mass shooting from occurring,” said Mr. Mauser, whose son Daniel was killed in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. “Obviously, having the death penalty doesn’t stop murders from happening.”
He said he supports having officers with guns at schools, but added that Columbine had an armed deputy who failed to stop the shooting.
“Having an armed resource officer is fine, but we shouldn’t live under the illusion we’re going to stop every incident,” Mr. Mauser said.
Mr. Brophy said he sees a switch from the arguments made by gun control advocates and Democrats during the 2013 legislative session, when they insisted that the legislation was needed to prevent mass shootings.
“The justification for bringing these [bills] up was Newtown, Columbine, Aurora,” said Mr. Brophy. “If they’re admitting that the purpose of these bills was not to stop these crimes from happening in the future, it makes me think the real reason for running these bills was to disarm everyone.”
The National Rifle Association, in its response to the deadly Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting in December 2012, proposed a National School Shield Emergency Response Program in which qualified police, military, security personnel and others would organize to protect schools.
In a statement widely criticized by gun control groups, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a news conference a week after the Newtown tragedy, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The new Colorado laws mandated background checks for all sales and transfers, including temporary transfers; required gun buyers to pay for their background checks; and limited ammunition-magazine capacity to 15 rounds or fewer. None of those provisions stopped the Arapahoe gunman, who had no criminal record and purchased buckshot, steel-shot and slugs instead of ammunition magazines.
The gun control bills triggered a populist backlash that resulted in the recalls of two Democrats from the state Senate, the first legislative recalls in Colorado history. A third state senator resigned Nov. 27 before recall petitions were submitted.
Republican legislators want the measures repealed next year, but Mr. Hickenlooper said in a Tuesday interview with Colorado Public Radio that he doesn’t see that happening. Despite the recalls, Democrats continue to control both houses of the General Assembly.
“If someone comes and has some way of changing or proving or getting rid of something that’s wrong in universal background checks, I’m not ruling anything out. Let’s see what people want to bring forward,” said Mr. Hickenlooper. “[But] I don’t think we’re going to repeal anything.”