As Coloradans — from the Eastern Plains to the Western Slope and the densely populated Front Range in between — focus on the debate over new firearms measures, lawmakers and experts gathered for a panel discussion Tuesday evening to discuss ways to combat gun violence.
The bipartisan group tackled topics ranging from assault weapons to universal background checks on gun sales and how to keep firearms out the hands of individuals with mental health issues.
"We're in a different place in the West, and our heritage of guns is rich," said Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper in opening remarks, as he took a neutral position for the night as the moderator of the panel. "And we're also home to tragedies at Columbine and Aurora, and this brings the debate over guns into sharp focus."
Hickenlooper was joined by lawmakers U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs; state Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs; and state Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora.
Also taking part in the discussion were Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck, researcher David Kopel of the libertarian-conservative Independence Institute and Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police president Tom Deland.
"We here in Colorado can set an example for the nation on gun laws that are responsible," said Fields, a sponsor of state bills banning magazines of more than 15 rounds and requiring background checks for all gun sales. Both measures have been endorsed by Hickenlooper and passed through the House on Monday.
They will move on to the Senate for debate in the coming weeks.
"With mass shootings on the rise, we need to do something to approach gun violence," Fields said.
She said a common thread among the shootings is that gunmen possessed high-capacity ammunition magazines. Kopel countered, saying the debate over magazines has been consistently framed by misuses of the devices.
"The misuse of handguns is far more deadly than the use of high-capacity magazines," said Kopel, who added that magazines of up to 20 rounds are standard for gun owners. "If misuses are the common argument for banning these magazines, then all guns should be banned. It just doesn't make sense."
Much of the hour-long panel, hosted by the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab at the Seawell Grand Ballroom, remained cordial, although the divide among the panelists was clear. CELL is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution dedicated to preventing terrorism through education, empowerment and engagement.
Buck, who lost a 2010 bid for the U.S. Senate, called the idea for universal background checks "insane."
"It only is going to stop or slow down law-abiding citizens from getting a gun," he said.
Deland, whose organization supports magazine limits and universal background checks, disagreed. "It is a step toward keeping guns out of the wrong hands," he said.
Panelists also fielded questions from an audience of several hundred people.
Asked whether early education could play a role in preventing gun violence, panelists found common ground.
"Intervention and early education is one of the best things to reduce crime," Kopel said.
Fields added: "It's the best investment we can make, especially in terms of conflict resolution."
Kurtis Lee: 303-954-1655, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/kurtisalee