ERIE, Colo. -- Unnoticed amid dozens of tract homes in the Denver suburbs, a nondescript industrial building is suddenly in the middle of the gun control debate in Colorado.
The company, started in an ex-Marine's basement in 1999, is in a standoff with Colorado Democrats who want to restrict the size of ammunition magazines after mass shootings in a suburban Denver movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school. Magpul has issued lawmakers an ultimatum potentially worth millions: Pass the bill, and the business will move.
It's a bold threat from a company that, by its founder's admission, has distanced itself from politics.
"The people who wrote the bill didn't even know we existed in the state," said Richard Fitzpatrick, the founder and president of the company, one of the country's largest producers of magazines and other firearm accessories for gun enthusiasts, law enforcement and the military.
The warning from Erie-based Magpul underscores the political pressures Democrats are weighing as they advance the strictest gun-control measures lawmakers have ever considered in a state that still prides its frontier spirit. Other gun-control proposals include universal background checks, a ban on concealed firearms on campuses, and holding assault-weapon sellers and owners liable for shootings.
Opponents need only three Democrats in the Senate to vote no against the magazine proposal to defeat it, and two have already said they won't support the bill. But most Democrats are not budging.
"When you have the means available to you at every single corner to commit a horrendous act, we will continue to see what we've seen, which is the status quo, where unfortunately gun violence and violence in general is prevalent in our communities," said Democratic Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, who will be considering the magazine bill on Monday in the Judiciary Committee. The bill has already passed the House, and Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper has promised to sign it.
The bill would make it a crime to have magazines that can carry more than 15 rounds, with a stricter limit of eight for shotguns. People who own larger magazines now would be allowed to keep them.
As the debate unfolds, states have made overtures to Magpul, including offering to pay their moving costs. The company won't name the states, but Wyoming and Texas have expressed interest in netting the $85 million the company projects it will spend in Colorado next year in payments to suppliers, subcontractors and service providers. Magpul said the move would also impact its 200 employees, plus an additional 400 who work for suppliers and subcontractors.
"It's not so much, `Oh, these people are making something that's going to cost Colorado lives.' We truly believe this bill will do nothing. It's a feel-good measure," Fitzpatrick said. "But these (workers) will be directly affected."
Fitzpatrick said the bill's requirement that all magazines have serial numbers adds enough production costs to make it worth leaving. He also said smaller magazines can be easily connected to each other – magazines can be hooked up to make a 60-round magazine, for example – and the company fears it would legally liable if people were to do that.
Democrats have tried to ease Magpul's fears, amending the bill to make clear that the company can still manufacture magazines of any size, as long as they're sold only out-of-state, to the military or law enforcement.
Republicans who oppose the restrictions argue Democrats are sending mixed messages about gun control to keep a company in Colorado.
"It's being hypocritical. These things are either bad or they're not," said Republican Rep. Brian DelGrosso.
Magpul argues that limiting magazine sizes will not reduce gun violence, and that criminals will find ways around laws, including going to other states to buy larger magazines. Magpul officials note that some of their products sometimes end up in California, which limits magazine sizes to 10 rounds.
"The solutions that people want to bring up are hardware solutions," said Magpul Director Duane Liptak. "And they want to talk about this physical piece of equipment that's not inherently evil. It's not inherently good. It's a tool like anything else. It can be used for good, and it can be used improperly by people who have evil in their hearts."
Supporters of the proposals say Magpul is bluffing and that a move would prove too costly.
"I don't think Magpul is about to pull out," said Bill Hoover, 83, whose grandson AJ Boik was among the 12 killed in the theater shooting. "It's going to cost them a bundle of money."
Fitzpatrick said his company is serious.
"It's not really a threat. It's a promise," he said.
Sens. Lois Tochtrop and Cheri Jahn are the two Democrats voting against the bill. Both say they don't believe it addresses the main problem – mental health – and Tochtrop also cited Magpul's potential departure.
"I think we really need to address that problem. Look at the cause, not the tool," Tochtrop said.
1981: The Attempted Assassination Of President Ronald Reagan
on March 30, 1981, President Reagan and three others were shot and wounded in an assassination attempt by John Hinckley, Jr. outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Reagan's press secretary, Jim Brady, was shot in the head.
1993: The Brady Handgun Violence Act
The Brady Handgun Violence Act of 1993, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, mandated that federally licensed dealers complete comprehensive background checks on individuals before selling them a gun. The legislation was named for James Brady, who was shot during an attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981.
1994: The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act
The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, instituted a ban on 19 kinds of assault weapons, including Uzis and AK-47s. The crime bill also banned the possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. (An exemption was made for weapons and magazines manufactured prior to the ban.)
2004: Law Banning Magazines Holding More Than Ten Rounds Of Ammunition Expires
In 2004, ten years after it first became law, Congress allowed a provision banning possession of magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition to expire through a sunset provision. Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke told HuffPost that the expiration of this provision meant that Rep. Gabby Giffords's alleged shooter was able to fire off 20-plus shots without reloading (under the former law he would have had only ten).
2007: The U.S. Court of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Rules In Favor Of Dick Heller
In 2007 The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to allow Dick Heller, a licensed District police officer, to keep a handgun in his home in Washington, D.C. Following that ruling, the defendants petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.
2008: The NICS Improvement Amendments Act
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech University, Congress passed legislation to require states provide data on mentally unsound individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, with the aim of halting gun purchases by the mentally ill, and others prohibited from possessing firearms. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush in January of 2008.
2008: Supreme Court Strikes Down D.C. Handgun Ban As Unconstitutional
In June of 2008, the United States Supreme Court upheld the verdict of a lower court ruling the D.C. handgun ban unconstitutional in the landmark case <em>District of Columbia v. Heller</em>.
Gabrielle Giffords And Trayvon Martin Shootings
Gun control advocates had high hopes that reform efforts would have increased momentum in the wake of two tragic events that rocked the nation. In January of 2011, Jared Loughner opened fire at an event held by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), killing six and injuring 13, including the congresswoman. Resulting attempts to push gun control legislation <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">proved fruitless</a>, with neither proposal even succeeding in gaining a single GOP co-sponsor. More than a year after that shooting, Florida teenager Trayvon Martin was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/trayvon-martin" target="_hplink">gunned down</a> by George Zimmerman in an event that some believed would bring increased scrutiny on the nation's Stand Your Ground laws. While there has been increasing discussion over the nature of those statutes, lawmakers were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">quick to concede</a> that they had little faith the event would effectively spur gun control legislation, thanks largely to the National Rifle Association's vast lobbying power. Read more <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/09/trayvon-martin-shooting-gun-debate_n_1413115.html" target="_hplink">here</a>:
Colorado Movie Theater Shooting
In July of 2012, a heavily armed gunman <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/aurora-shooting-movie-theater-batman_n_1688547.html" target="_hplink">opened fire on theatergoers</a> attending a midnight premiere of the final film of the latest Batman trilogy, killing 12 and wounding scores more. The suspect, James Eagan Holmes, allegedly carried out the act with a number of handguns, as well as an AR-15 assault rifle with a 100-round drum magazine. Some lawmakers used the incident, which took place in a state with some of the laxest gun control laws, to bring forth legislation designed to place increased regulations on access to such weapons, but many observers, citing previous experience, were <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/20/batman-shooting_n_1690547.html" target="_hplink">hesitant to say</a> that they would be able to overcome the power of the National Rifle Association and Washington gun lobby.
Sikh Temple Shooting
On August 5, 2012, white supremacist Wade Michael Page opened fire on a Sikhs gathered at a temple in Oak Creek, Wis., killing six and wounding four more before turning the gun on himself.