Gov. John Hickenlooper addressed one of the most talked-about and controversial issues facing the state of Colorado and the nation during his State of the State address on Thursday: gun control.
"Our record of addressing difficult problems together makes it possible to discuss gun violence and mental health," Hickenlooper began. "There are no easy solutions. Some point to guns, others to a violent culture. Still others believe that the line between community security and individual freedom must be re-drawn. We shouldn’t be restrained from discussing any of these issues. Our democracy demands this type of debate."
And then Hickenlooper made his boldest proclamation about new policy in Colorado regarding gun sales:
"Let me prime the pump," Hickenlooper said. "Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?"
The question was met with tremendous applause and cheers in the state legislature.
"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.