DENVER - Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said "the time is right" for state lawmakers to consider gun control measures, offering his firmest stance on the issue nearly five months after the Aurora movie theater massacre shocked the nation.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Hickenlooper said enough time has passed since the tragedy and that the legislative session in January would be an appropriate time to take up a debate gun control measures.
“I wanted to have at least a couple of months off after the shooting in Aurora to let people process and grieve and get a little space, but ... I think now is the time,” Hickenlooper said.
He said the upcoming session “would be the right place to look at some of these things like, do we all need assault weapons,” which he said are “designed for warfare, it's designed to pierce bulletproof vests and body armor.”
Former CU neuroscience student James Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding dozens of others in the July movie shootings. He was armed with a shotgun, a semiautomatic rifle, and two pistols.
Hickenlooper did not call for specific legislation, but did give a strong indication of what kind of debates and proposals he'd like to see.
“When you look at what happened in Aurora, a great deal of that damage was from the large magazine on the AR-15 (rifle). I think we need to have that discussion and say, 'Where is this appropriate?'”
He said many guns exist now and that there's no “immediate solution” for stopping gun violence. But he quoted Tom Mauser, the father of one of the students killed in the Columbine High School, saying, “If you don't start now, you're not going to get anywhere.”
As mayor of Denver, Hickenlooper was a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national group led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The mayors group says its supports the right to own guns, but advocates enforcing laws to prevent criminals for illegally obtaining guns and the deadly violence this fuels.
Thirteen current Colorado mayors belong to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, including Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Lakewood Mayor Bob Murphy.
One of the nation's most popular governors, Hickenlooper also tried to put to rest talk about a potential presidential run in 2016.
Hickenlooper said he and his cabinet decided a couple of weeks ago that they wanted to focus on improving health care and education in the state in the next three years.
“What I'm saying is, we're not going to spend any time on it, which essentially makes it impossible,” he said.
Hickenlooper also said he believes he's too moderate to survive a Democratic primary.
“I mean if you really think about it, realistically, I am so moderate I would be a difficult candidate to imagine succeeding anywhere,” he said.
Hickenlooper has long prided himself on being a moderate who tries to forge compromises between Republicans and Democrats.
But the upcoming session could pose challenges to Hickenlooper with Democrats controlling both chambers of the Legislature, unlike the previous two years of split legislative control.
Now legislation that Republicans heavily oppose can actually get to Hickenlooper's desk, forcing him to make difficult stances.
Gun control could be at the top of the list.
“I don't think it's appropriate to try to capitalize on tragedies to further some political agenda,” said Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Mark Waller, the GOP's incoming House leader.
Waller said he agrees with what Hickenlooper said initially after the Aurora shootings that further restrictions on guns would not have prevented what happened.
Boulder Democratic Rep. Claire Levy said she doesn't like to legislate in response to specific events, but she applauded Hickenlooper for his comments.
“I applaud him for being willing to have a conversation that could be contentious and invokes a lot of strong emotions on people on both sides,” said Levy, who is considering legislation to prohibit public colleges from allowing concealed-carry guns on campuses.
She said the Aurora shooting also illustrates problems with mental health treatment, not just access to guns. The Aurora shooter had seen a psychiatrist before the shootings.
Waller said his party would be open to looking at restricting access to guns to people with mental illnesses, but added that the “problem you run into there is what constitutes mental illness.”
“That creates a slippery slope,” he said.