Governor fails to lead on gun safety after Aurora, Newtown
A day before the tragic news from Newtown, Conn., shocked the nation, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper seemed to position Colorado at the forefront of a call for a national dialogue on gun safety and automatic weapons.
On Dec. 12, five months after a disturbed young man killed 12 and wounded 70 theater patrons in Aurora, the governor told an AP reporter, “The time is right” to talk about gun control.
“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 the time is right,” he explained.
Among the important questions to be considered, Hickenlooper said, are “things like, do we all need assault weapons ... designed for war — designed to pierce bulletproof vests and body armor?”
Later, he narrowed the issue to the size of the magazine, rather than the nature of the weapon.
“When you look at what happened in Aurora, a great deal of that damage was from the large magazine on the AR-15 (rifle),” he said. “I think we need to have that discussion and say, ‘Where is this appropriate?’”
Then came the Newtown massacre of 20 children and six dedicated teachers and school officials.
Asked by Westword reporter Sam Levin how the Newtown shooting might influence legislation, Hickenlooper “didn’t have anything concrete to say,” Levin reported.
Though the governor acknowledged that a dialogue on reducing these episodes of mass killing was needed, he added, “Now ... that’s not necessarily talking about gun violence. It might be talking about how we address people that have mental illness, making sure they don’t have easy access to weapons.”
In a Sunday interview with CNN’s Candy Crowley, Hickenlooper distanced himself even farther from the conclusion that easy access to assault weapons was part of the problem.
It was, he explained to Crowley, “the culture of violence” that precipitated the mass killings.
“Look at the level of violence in our media,” he told Crowley. “The depiction of assault weapons again and again. There might be some direct connection between people who have mental instability and when they go over the edge ... they become part of one of those video games. And perhaps that’s why all these assault weapons are used.”
With this questionable perception, Hickenlooper turns his attention from the proliferation of assault rifles to devising ways to discover potentially violent individuals and neutralize them before they strike.
“You know, one of the things we’re doing in Colorado is looking at expanding the time” for approving permits. “If someone’s had a mental-illness hold ... they have to wait (longer) before they can get access to a firearm,” he explained.
“One can only hope we’ll find a way to limit these weapons that really only have one purpose,” which is to kill, he added.
Vacillating between his initial observation that assault weapons have no place in the civilian arsenal and his later position that the problem is not guns but unstable individuals, Hickenlooper has lost any credibility as a leader on the issue.
Framing the issue as a choice between controlling the availability of assault rifles and limiting access to them by potentially dangerous individuals is a false dichotomy.
Experience has shown it is impossible to keep assault rifles and other weapons of war from the hands of psychopaths, terrorists and others who might threaten violence if they are traded on the open market.
Only by restoring the ban on assault rifles that the Bush administration allowed to lapse can we limit the opportunities for pathological killers to turn these weapons against our children or ourselves.
Unfortunately, despite the cost in blood and tears Colorado has paid for lax control of assault weapons, our governor believes it is more appropriate to control human behavior than to limit opportunities for further carnage by restricting access to weapons meant only for mass killing.
“When it first became clear that (Newtown) was a major event,” Hickenlooper said, “my eyes just filled up ... And I’m sure that’s happening to people all over Colorado. We’ve been through this.”
How truly sad it will be if we prove to have learned nothing from the experience.