Governor to sheriffs: Gun-control bills could have been handled better

by Chad Abraham, Aspen Daily News Staff Writer
Speaking to the state’s sheriffs Friday in Aspen, Gov. John Hickenlooper acknowledged that he could have better handled two controversial gun-control bills, getting a bit profane when a lawman questioned him on the measures.

At the biannual County Sheriffs of Colorado conference held at the Limelight Hotel, a couple of top cops asked the governor why he wasn’t more receptive to differing voices before the legislation, now the subject of a lawsuit by more than 50 sheriffs, was passed. One bill expanded background checks for firearm purchases that involve one’s mental health records, and the other capped guns’ magazine size to 15 handgun bullets.

John Cooke, Weld County sheriff, brought up Hickenlooper’s recent visit to Greeley and said the governor mentioned the importance of listening to win over opponents.

“When these gun laws came up, why wouldn’t you listen to the sheriffs?” he asked. “Why wouldn’t, when a couple of sheriffs wanted to meet with you, you wouldn’t hear our side of the story? You spoke to Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg a couple of times, but you didn’t listen to the sheriffs.”

Hickenlooper said he did meet with the former New York City mayor, adding that Bloomberg’s idea was to “take existing gun laws and enforce them.”

“I would say in the gun stuff, we certainly could have done a better job. … I didn’t find out the sheriffs were trying to talk to me until the week after, 10 days after, that time frame,” he said. “I’m happy to sit down any time you want. ... I think we screwed that up and did a disservice to you and a disservice to ourselves.”

Regarding background checks, Hickenlooper said he heard from both sides of the political spectrum that government shouldn’t be taking guns away from anyone, except from “the hands of crazy people.

 Jordan Curet/Aspen Daily News
Governor John Hickenlooper answers questions put to him by the County Sheriffs of Colorado conference on Friday morning at the Limelight Hotel in Aspen.

“This is how bright I am — I didn’t think it was going to be that controversial,” he said. “Republicans said, ‘Folks aren’t stupid. … Why the heck are you making us spend $10 and wait around when we’re just trying to buy a hunting rifle?’ There were a thousand things going on and other issues we were dealing with, I guess I didn’t get it.”

By the time he became aware of the criticism, he said it was too late, as he had already signed the legislation.

“I had a friend when I was growing up [who was] always a little bit off-kilter,” Hickenlooper said. “He always used to look at me and say, ‘If you feel the need for an apology, let this be that,’ which was his half-ass way of apologizing. I apologize.”

Cooke also questioned him on the high-capacity magazine ban, saying there has not been a single arrest in the entire state for such an infraction since the legislation passed.

“To me that just proves what a worthless statute that really is. … It caused a lot of angst for no reason,” he said.

Hickenlooper said he didn’t agree with that logic. The purpose of a law is to try to get people to do something right, he said. Hickenlooper also said he respects the Second Amendment, but “the thing with high-capacity magazines is in urban areas, that’s how police officers get killed.” Police officials in Denver have told him as much, he said.

Another lawman said that before the gun-measures passed, there were days at the Capitol that saw 40 sheriffs present.

“We were well known to be there,” he said. “We stopped by your office, talked to your staff. I know our organization president sent a letter ...”

“What more apology do you want?” Hickenlooper interrupted to laughter. “What the f---? I apologize!”

He reiterated that there needs to be a better process in the future for gun legislation.

“Again, if we knew it was going to divide the state so intensely, we probably would have thought about it twice,” Hickenlooper said.

Also speaking at the conference, briefly, was U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, who thanked the sheriffs for their service.

chad@aspendailynews.com