CENTENNIAL—Democrats have long insisted the state’s new gun laws were passed to help stop mass shootings, but Gov. John Hickenlooper said Sunday that the measures did nothing to prevent a teen gunman from storming Arapahoe High School.
In an interview on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation,” the Democratic governor was asked why the laws failed to avert Friday’s shooting at the suburban high school.
“You actually passed some pretty tough gun laws out there in Colorado after those other incidents happened, and yet they continue to happen,” said moderator Bob Schieffer.
Hickenlooper responded that Coloradans “care deeply” about two things: protecting their Second Amendment rights and “making their communities safer.”
“So things like universal background checks, I think they are going to make us safer, but in this specific case aren’t going to make a difference at all,” said Hickenlooper. “And that’s the challenge.”
The three bills were approved in March by a state legislature bitterly divided between Democrats, who pushed the measures in the aftermath of two deadly 2012 mass shootings, and Republicans, who said the laws would do nothing to stop such tragedies while infringing on the rights of gun owners.
The laws, which took effect July 1, mandate background checks on all firearms purchases and transfers; require buyers to pay for their background checks, and restrict ammunition-magazine capacity to 15 rounds.
None of those stopped the Arapahoe gunman, 18-year-old Karl Pierson, whom authorities say bought his shotgun and ammunition legally at a local retail outlet. He also carried a machete and three incendiary devices.
Pierson was the only student who died Friday after turning his gun on himself inside the school after shooting 17-year-old Claire Davis. She remains in a coma and in critical condition at Littleton Adventist Hospital after undergoing surgery.
Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson has described her as an “innocent victim” who was shot at random.
The shooter, a member of the school’s debate team who had been disciplined in September, was searching for the debate coach.
“He didn’t seem to have a mental illness, he had a lot of friends, he was outspoken,” said Hickenlooper, adding, “High school kids all over this city, all over the country have falling-outs with teachers or coaches all the time, they don’t go out and buy a gun and decide they’re going to kill a lot of people.”
What stopped the terrifying incident from turning into a full-blown massacre was the rapid response of law enforcement, particularly the sheriff’s deputy assigned to the school, said Hickenlooper.
“He [Pierson] came into the school prepared to do damage to a lot of people,” said the governor. “[H]aving had these episodes in the past, we do have strategies and protocols in place, where we had a deputy sheriff in the building who immediately ran toward the trouble, toward the problems, and he was there basically in a minute of the first shots.”
“That’s a remarkable response, and I think everybody from the sheriff out here, Grayson Robinson, his entire team–they deserve a lot of credit for what could have been much, much worse,” said the governor.
In the aftermath of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, law-enforcement agencies implemented active-shooter protocols that require officers to “go immediately to the threat and eliminate the threat,” said Robinson.
Officials said Sunday that Arapahoe High School will remain closed this week and will reopen after winter break.