In an interview with The Denver Post, head of the NRA David Keene criticized Colorado's overburdened background check system for gun purchases as well as the latest package of gun bills Colorado Democrats proposed this week.
When asked about the proposed measure that Colorado Democrats introduced Tuesday which would make owners, manufacturers and distributors of firearms civilly liable for damages caused by their weapons, Keene said he thought the plan was "foolish" policy.
"You can't sue them (manufacturers and sellers) because someone bought a legal product and then did something wrong with it," Keene told The Denver Post.
The proposed state measure appears to be in conflict with a Federal law that was passed in 2005 after relentless lobbying by the NRA which grants gun companies rare legal protection from liability lawsuits that many manufacturers of other kinds of products do not have.
The legal constraints that the NRA helped establish for gun companies has frustrated victims of mass shootings in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo. who want the courts to hold gun makers more accountable and perhaps force them to adopt stricter gun safety standards, The Washington Post reported.
Keene was also critical of the increased wait times for background checks on gun purchases in Colorado stemming from a surge in sales in 2012 that ultimately maxed the system out last December.
"If I were a Colorado resident," Keene said to The Denver Post, "and told I had to wait an undetermined period of time to buy a gun, I would go to court."
The Colorado Bureau of Investigation, the agency which processes the background checks in the state, has had severely increased wait times on a background checks due to surging gun sales. A background check generally takes minutes in Colorado, but since end of December and into January, the CBI's queue had been hovering around 10,000 checks, causing a wait time of more than nine days. That more than doubles the wait time just from earlier in December when gun buyers saw background checks taking 100 hours or more.
Since the tragic Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, gun sales have been surging in Colorado and across the nation. Fox31 reports that the AR-15, a military-style assault weapon that was used in the Sandy Hook shooting as well as the Aurora shooting, is virtually sold out in Colorado gun shops.
The most recent spike in background check requests came in the immediate 48-hour aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting when Colorado set yet another record for background check submittals to buy guns this year.
Although the spike in firearm sales has grown dramatically in Colorado, when compared to the rest of the nation, people were less enthusiastic about buying new guns at the end of the year in the Centennial State, as well as in Connecticut -- the homes of two of the nation's bloodiest mass shootings in 2012.
There have been several unusual surges in gun sales in Colorado in 2012 alone. A large spike in gun sales took place immediately following the tragic Aurora movie theater shooting that left 12 dead and nearly 60 wounded. Just days after the shooting, background checks for people wanting to purchase firearms in the state jumped more than 41 percent. And another sales spike occurred following the Jessica Ridgeway tragedy, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigations.
Then, on Black Friday, CBI set a new record in the state processing over 4,000 background checks on people purchasing firearms -- that's nearly 1,000 more checks than were run in 2011 when CBI set a single-day record of checking 3,031 gun buyers, according to 9News. So busy was the CBI that the flood of new applications crashed the system twice on Black Friday.
While the number of firearm applications does not correlate with the number of guns in the state -- since a buyer who has passed the background check can get multiple guns and the state does not track the number of firearm purchases -- as of November of this year, 279,149 firearm applications had been approved out of 285,424. That's over 33,000 more approvals since last year, not counting this month when background check submittals set the latest record.
The same kind of surge in background checks holds true nationally as well. The Associated Press reports that there were nearly twice as many more background checks performed for gun purchases between November and December 2012 than during the same two months in 2011.
Keene also remarked to The Denver Post that the NRA has always considered Hickenlooper to be reasonable on guns but stressed that they believed the national Democratic party was putting pressure on the governor to develop stricter gun control measures in the state.
"I think Gov. Hickenlooper had it right after the Aurora shooting," Keene said to The Associated Press in an interview Thursday before he met with the governor. "He said it's not the laws, it's these kinds of people."
Recently, Hickenlooper's stance on guns and gun control has been changing. During his State of the State address in January Hickenlooper made one of his boldest proclamations about gun control in Colorado, encouraging a serious discussion about guns and mental illness in the state legislature. "Let me prime the pump," Hickenlooper said. "Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?"
"After Columbine, Colorado voters insisted that gun show sales be regulated, and launched an aggressive effort to prevent school bullying," Hickenlooper said. "We have shown in Colorado that we can learn from tragedy and make changes. Surely, Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters can find common ground in support of this proposition: Let’s examine our laws and make the changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people."
But the governor also said that keeping guns out of the hands of "dangerous people" isn't enough. "We have to do a better job of identifying and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others," Hickenlooper said. "That is why we are requesting your support for a comprehensive overhaul of our state’s mental health system. We ask you to pass legislation that will update civil commitment laws, make it easier to identify people with mental illness who are a danger to themselves and others and provide safer, more humane systems for their treatment. We need your continued support as well with sweeping changes made last year to the state’s child welfare system. Issues related to guns, mental health and child welfare have added challenges to the agenda we began two years ago."
Hickenlooper's evolving stance on stricter gun control continues to become clearer but stands in stark contrast to his reaction immediately following the Aurora theater massacre which was more-or-less a sidestep of the issue of gun control in Colorado. When asked on ABC's "This Week" on whether he should revisit the state's gun laws in the wake of the Aurora massacre, Hickenlooper said, "I'm sure that is going to happen, but I look at this, this wasn't a Colorado problem, this is a human problem, right?" Hickenlooper then added: "You know, I worry that if we got rid of all the guns and certainly we have so many guns in this country, we do have a lot more gun violence than many other countries -- but even if you didn't have access to guns, this guy was diabolical. Right? He would have found explosives, he would have found something else, some sort of poisonous gas, he would have done something to create this horror."
But in December, things suddenly changed for Hickenlooper. Just a day before the Sandy Hook school shooting occurred and nearly five months after Aurora, Hickenlooper said that "the time is right" for state lawmakers to consider gun control measures -- the strongest stance Hickenlooper has taken on the issue to date, the Associated Press reported.
"When you look at what happened in Aurora, a great deal of that damage was from the large magazine on the AR-15 (rifle)," Hickenlooper said. "I think we need to have that discussion and say, 'Where is this appropriate?'"
Then, just days later on "State of the Union," with Candy Crowley the governor went on to say that enough time has passed in the state to start talking about gun control and safety. "We've had that distance since the shooting in Aurora and have really tried to look at what are the things that could make a difference and how should we begin this conversation," Hickenlooper said. "Certainly, things like high-capacity magazines, that comes up again and again and again, expanding background checks to make sure that guns to end up in the wrong people's hands. We have a whole list of efforts, almost $20 million in new programs around trying to put more support for people with mental illness. But that conversation about gun safety is going to continue."
The 5-point plan Hickenlooper and state health officials are proposing -- called “Strengthening Colorado’s Mental Health System: A Plan to Safeguard All Coloradans” -- would include the establishment of a state-wide mental health crisis hotline, opening five 24-hour urgent mental health care centers and substance abuse centers.
If approved by state lawmakers, the plan would also authorize the Colorado State Judicial System to transfer mental health commitment records electronically and directly to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation in real-time so the information is available for firearm purchase background checks conducted by Colorado InstaCheck.
After the meeting with Hickenlooper, which lasted about 30 minutes, Keene praised the governor for being "serious" about policy. "He’s interested in policy," Keene said to Fox31, "and from what I know about him, he’s not a governor who runs off for political reasons and pops off and tries to exploit tragedies or anything else.” Keene said.
Following the meeting with Keene, Hickenlooper released this statement:
We appreciate David Keene’s willingness to come out to see firsthand what we’re considering and talking about in Colorado. While we might not agree on a number of things, there will certainly be places we can find common ground.