In the immediate aftermath of the Aurora theater massacre, Governor John Hickenlooper earned the praise of many — including us — for his cool-headed and common-sensical response to the carnage.
When he was asked to comment about whether more aggressive gun control laws might have prevented the tragedy, Hick resisted the opportunity to politicize the moment, and stated the obvious.
“I don’t think stricter laws would have made a difference,” Hickenlooper said at the time “He would have found a way to wreak havoc.”
Indeed, Hickenlooper’s sentiments in the wake of the killings weren’t terribly different from those expressed by National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre in the wake of the Newtown shootings.
“Legislation works on the sane. Legislation works on the law abiding,” LaPierre told NBC’s David Gregory in response to a question about proposed limits on magazine capacity and a ban on some semi-automatic firearms.
Yet just months after Hickenlooper conceded that a bevy of new restrictions wouldn’t have prevented the Aurora tragedy, the governor signed several controversial gun measures into law – including one that could result in an outright ban on many common firearms, and convert many law abiding citizens into criminals overnight.
So what happened to change Hickenlooper’s mind between last summer and now?
We don’t know exactly how to explain Mr. Hickenlooper’s about-face on the gun issue, but we think that Larimer County Sheriff Justin Smith may have touched on the reason for Mr. Hickenlooper’s rapid conversion during comments he made during a press conference on Wednesday.
“President [Obama], New York billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg and the leaders in [the Democratic] party now are throwing their political clout behind continued efforts to impose more and more gun control laws on Colorado,” said Smith.
“The answer lies in agenda driven politics,” Smith said later on during the event. “Gun control advocates were keenly aware that they had a short window of opportunity to exploit the emotions surrounding the tragedies in Newtown and Aurora…The president and Mayor Bloomberg are desperate.”
Watching President Obama’s whistle-stop in Colorado on Wednesday (which cost taxpayers $1 million), it’s difficult to argue with Smith’s take. Support for stricter gun control laws is slipping. Even on the question of universal background checks, the most popular among the proposals, a majority of Americans (51 percent) now believe that expanding such checks will either have no effect or actually increase violent crime, according to one recent public opinion survey.
During his speech, flanked by Denver police officers (despite concerns that many cops were coerced into participating in what was essentially a campaign rally), Obama pointed to the gun-grabbing measures enacted by Hickenlooper as an example to be emulated nationally.
The whole scene seemed a bit surreal, seeing that Hickenlooper waited as long as humanly possible to offer a full throated endorsement of Obama last election cycle. While he was once a “cautious, moderate” kind of governor politically, suddenly Hickenlooper has put himself at the forefront of a controversial and very liberal push for feel-good gun control policies.
We believe that President Obama’s visit to Colorado to stump for Chicago-style gun controls (which haven’t even worked in Chicago) presented a fitting backdrop for the final stage in what has been a remarkable political transformation for John Hickenlooper. It’s an evolution which has seen the folksy, middle-of-the-road, independent-minded geologist that Colorado voters elected in 2010 become just another big-city, progressive Democrat pursuing an ideological left-wing social agenda. Sort of our own Mile High version of Rahm Emanuel.