[dropcap]F[/dropcap]reshman Colorado Senator Bernie Herpin has been defending himself against a barrage of attacks this week responding to clumsy but also revealing comments he made tied to the 2012 massacre at the Aurora theater. As his record in politics draws more scrutiny, he’s sure to feel more heat.
In 2000, in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings, Herpin led opposition to a state constitutional amendment backed by a wide majority of voters that in 2001 closed the so-called gun-show loophole in Colorado. Although gun shops at the time required customers to pass criminal background checks, temporary gun shows required no background checks. Herpin, then program director of the Pikes Peak Firearms Coalition, challenged the initiative in the state’s supreme court. He lost that fight, but his efforts succeeded in delaying the start of petition gathering in favor of the initiative.
Supporters of the proposal cited polls that showed 80 percent of Coloradans — Republicans and Democrats — supported the amendment. They were baffled by Herpin’s position.
“A criminal should not be allowed to walk out of prison and walk into a gun show and buy a firearm without a background check,” said a main advocate for the initiative. “It’s already technically illegal, yes, but the reality is there’s a loophole that allows them to get away with it.”
Last year, Herpin replaced Democratic state Senate President John Morse after angry gun-rights activists motivated by Morse’s support of new gun laws organized a recall election in the Republican-leaning Colorado Springs district. Herpin ran on a platform aimed at repealing the gun laws — mainly one that required background checks for private gun sales and transfers and one that banned in-state sales of ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.
Herpin was one of the sponsors of a bill introduced last month meant to repeal the magazine ban. The bill failed to pass, but Herpin made national headlines when he suggested during testimony in support of the bill that it was “maybe a good thing” the Aurora theater killer used a 100-round ammunition magazine when he shot up the “Dark Night” crowd two years ago.
Herpin meant that 100-round magazines jam more often than smaller capacity magazines. He didn’t mean to say he didn’t care that, when the shooting stopped just seconds after it began, 65 spent shells littered the floor, 12 people had sustained fatal wounds and dozens more were injured. But that’s how his critics said it came across. They said Herpin seemed unable to plug into the way the tragedy has shaped the lives of many of the the people in the room listening to his testimony, including family members of murdered moviegoers. They point out that Herpin’s committed hardcore pro-gun-rights positions are also far outside the mainstream, that they don’t match the views of the vast majority of Coloradans, nor even likely those of his constituents.
On that last point, they could be right. As the nonprofit state investigative I-News project reported last year, the Colorado neighborhood that hosted the greatest number of gun deaths in the decade following the Columbine shootings was a southeast Colorado Springs neighborhood in Herpin’s district called Pikes Peak Park, where 1960s tract homes nestle against a postcard-style mountain backdrop.
It is “an anomaly among the deadliest neighborhoods,” wrote I-News reporter Kevin Vaughan at the time. Many of the neighborhoods in Colorado that notched high numbers of gun deaths featured a lopsided majority of gunshot suicides, he explained. Not in Pikes Peak Park. Murder tied with suicides there.