02/25/2013 10:37 am ET Updated Feb 25, 2013

Gov. John Hickenlooper: Universal Background Checks For Gun Sales Are The Highest Priority

On Sunday's edition of CBS's "Face The Nation," Gov. John Hickenlooper said that on gun control policy, universal background checks for all gun purchases in the state of Colorado is the highest priority.

Host Major Garrett asked the governor out of President Obama's three "dominant ideas" about gun control that Congress is currently considering -- an assault weapons ban stronger than the law that expired in 2004, a ban on so-called high-capacity magazines and universal background checks -- what is Hickenlooper's top priority?

"I think universal background checks are the highest of those three remaining," Hickenlooper said. "Just in the sense that we did 320,000 background checks through our gun dealers and gun shows in Colorado last year and of those we found -- I mean, people say, 'well criminals aren't stupid, they're not going to go through a background check,' hey, what a surprise they are stupid, right? -- so we intercepted over 1,000 felons with criminal records most of them violent: 600 burglars, 40 people who had either been accused or convicted of homicide, we issued arrest warrants for over 100 individuals because they signed up for the background check."

Hickenlooper said that the state wants to expand that system because currently only about 60 percent of gun sales in the state go through a background check process, but that the state would like to expand the check system over the other 40 percent.

However, Hickenlooper also dodged the part of the question about banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines and instead talked about addressing mental health issues in the state.

"Well, certainly, our highest priority has been mental health issues and addressing that, just to make sure we don't put guns in the wrong hands. We have five twenty-four-seven emergency centers, we have the opportunity to make sure that people who do harm to themselves or to others, don't get guns."

The mental health plan called, “Strengthening Colorado’s Mental Health System: A Plan to Safeguard All Coloradans," establishes a state-wide mental health crisis hotline as well as five 24-hour urgent mental health care centers and substance abuse centers. It also authorizes 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.

Earlier in February, Hickenooper voiced support for three of four bills that recently passed the state House including House Bill 1224 which bans high-capacity magazines and limits capacity to 15 bullets, House Bill 1229 which requires universal background checks for all private gun sales and House Bill 1228 which requires a free for gun buyers to pay in order to cover the cost of the background checks performed by the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.

It came as no surprise that Hickenlooper supports the universal background check bill, as he called for lawmakers to pass it and for vigorous debate about gun violence in Colorado during his State of the State address in January. "Let me prime the pump," Hickenlooper said. "Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?"

But Hickenlooper had not thrown his support behind the high-capacity magazine limit nor the fees supporting the universal background check bill before February. "I know this is controversial and I'm going to catch a lot of heat for this," Hickenlooper said in support of the HB-1228, the bill that implements a fee for gun buyers to pay for their background checks, The Denver Post reported. "The folks that are needing, that are making use of this regulatory environment, it seems not unreasonable for them to pay the cost of the expense of that."

Hickenlooper didn't appear to show the same support on "Face The Nation," however the governor may have just run out of time during his answer as Garrett moved onto another panelist while Hickenlooper was still talking about gun control in the state.

Hickenlooper hasn't voiced support for an outright ban on assault weapons, but has spoken out in favor of at least considering a limit on high-capacity gun magazines. Just last December the Colorado governor told The Associated Press that "the time is right" for state lawmakers to consider gun control measures. "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?'"

According to recent polls, Coloradans appear to also agree that the time is right to address gun control in the state. A poll from Project New America/Chris Keating showed overwhelming support for bans on assault weapons to background checks to addressing mental health:

  • 95 percent of voters agree that people with "serious mental health problems" should be prevented from owning a gun.
  • 80 percent of voters agree that judges should be able to order someone who is "convicted of domestic violence or given a restraining order" to surrender their guns to the court.
  • 80 percent of voters agree that all private gun sales should go through a licensed dealer and be subject to a background check.
  • 65 percent of voters agree that guns should be banned on college and university campuses.
  • 61 percent of voters agree that the sale and possession of semi-automatic guns and assault rifles should be banned.
  • 61 percent of voters agree that the sale and possession of high-capacity ammunition clips, which allow some guns to shoot more than 10 bullets before reloading, should be banned.

A similar poll from The Denver Post also found support for gun control from Colorado voters with 60 percent supporting proposals that would: ban assault-style rifles, limit high-capacity magazines and require universal background checks on all gun sales.



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