Amid a gun policy debate gripping the nation in the wake of multiple mass shootings, one illuminating aspect can be found in the Republican primary for governor in Colorado.
In a Colorado Independent survey of six GOP candidates running, three say they would sign a bill banning bump stocks, a gun accessory that turns a semi-automatic weapon into one that can spray off shots like a machine gun, and one says he would want to see a federal ban.
The once obscure and deadly device has become a flashpoint in a broader debate about gun violence since President Donald Trump signaled he would ban them and even the NRA said the government should review whether selling the gun parts should be legal. Republicans who control the Colorado Senate, on the other hand, recently killed a bill to ban them.
Meanwhile, one Republican candidate for governor in Colorado, Victor Mitchell, has made tackling school shootings a centerpiece of his campaign in the lead-up to the April 14 GOP state assembly and the June 26 primary.
A top priority for him if he becomes governor, he said, would be to create a “nonpolitical task force” that involves a spectrum of experts from FBI profilers to mental health professionals and more who would come up with specific solutions. Goals, he says, would include greater funding for mental health, family interventions, strengthening schools and law enforcement, “increased profiling and community engagement,” and reviewing HIPAA privacy laws, among others.
“We’re going to bring in the gunners, we’re going to bring in the anti-gunners, we’re going to put everything on the table with full respect of the Second Amendment and dealing with the fact that 300 million guns and tens of millions of assault rifles are already in circulation that have been legally purchased that our citizens are legally entitled to have,” Mitchell told The Colorado Independent. “But we’re going to come up with specific ways to reduce gun violence by getting ahead of this instead of waiting for mass shootings to happen and then having kind of an emotional knee-jerk reaction.”
Asked about bump stocks, the candidate who says he had an A+ rating from the NRA in the one term he served in the legislature, says he would have no problem banning them as governor.
“I don’t like the idea of converting semi-[automatic] to full-automatic weapons and I think that’s exactly what bump stocks do,” he says, while characterizing them as a side issue in the larger context of preventing gun violence.
A Castle Rock entrepreneur who is putting $3 million of his own money into his campaign, Mitchell has gone on TV to talk about his gun violence push and says he has incorporated the message into his stump speeches along the campaign trail within the past few weeks.
The existence of bump stocks were largely unknown until they were discovered in the possession of a mass killer who rained bullets on an outdoor Las Vegas country music festival in October, killing 58 and wounding hundreds.
Since then, whether to ban them has flared up in Congress, the White House, legislatures and city halls. President Donald Trump, who campaigned with the backing of the NRA, has instructed his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to ban bump stocks through agency rulemaking at the ATF— the department of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In Colorado, for the first time since the 2012 Aurora theater shooting, which led Democratic lawmakers here to ban high-capacity gun magazines the following year and resulted in recall elections that pushed out two lawmakers who led the charge, gun issues in Colorado have played an outsized role in state politics on both sides of the debate. The state’s Republican House Minority Leader, Rep. Patrick Neville, a Columbine survivor, met with Trump shortly after Democrats here killed a bill he wrote that would have allowed concealed weapons in schools.
Last week, following hours of emotional testimony, Republicans in the Colorado Senate killed a bill that would have banned bump stocks. The vote came down 3-2 in a GOP-controlled committee and fell along party lines.
“Government can rarely make a big impact on these issues,” said Republican Sen. Owen Hill of conservative El Paso County who is running for Congress. He said he came down on the side of freedom. Fellow Republicans on the panel Vickie Marble of Fort Collins and Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling voted with him to squash the proposed law, which was introduced by Colorado Springs Democratic Sen. Mike Merrifield, a vocal gun-safety advocate.
Republicans control the state Senate by one seat, which means leadership can assign bills to certain committees, known as “kill committees,” which is where the bump-stock ban bill wound up.
"Bump stocks have no place in our modern cities, our modern country sides, anywhere," says @GovofCO. "The fact that we killed a bill yesterday in the general assembly bothers me." #copolitics #coleg Interview airs tomorrow @ColoradoMatters pic.twitter.com/fv5zM5Dz5U
— Ryan Warner (@cprwarner) March 20, 2018
Gun politics has also taken root on the campaign trail in this year’s big governor’s race in the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 dead on Valentine’s Day.
While the leading Democratic candidates for governor are all on the same page on banning them, a Colorado Independent survey of the Republicans running showed some daylight.
Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, for instance, says if she was governor she would sign a state law banning them.
“I don’t think we should have bump stocks,” she said.
That’s a bit different than State Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s stance. While he says he supports Trump’s decision to ban them through the ATF, “I do not support legislative action by the state.”
Doug Robinson, a retired investment banker and first-time candidate, says he would ban bump stocks at the state level, according to a campaign spokeswoman who said Robinson believes allowing their use is a loophole that should be closed.
Republican Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter said he would not sign a bill banning bump stocks if he were governor. “I think the people are the problem not the guns,” he said.
Steve Barlock, who once said the only thing that could turn him against Trump was if Trump turned against the NRA, says he would look to how the president ends up handling bump stocks.
“Right now I can understand my farmers wanting bump stocks to shoot prairie dogs on farms because it makes it a little easier,” he said. But, “I’ll follow Donald Trump’s lead on bump stocks.”
Republican Greg Lopez, the former mayor of Parker, says he is undecided on the issue and would have to look more closely at any piece of potential legislation before weighing in. It could be a slippery slope, he says.
A spokesman for Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s campaign said she was unavailable to answer by the time this story was posted, and a spokeswoman for businessman Barry Farah didn’t immediately respond to a message.