DENVER -- Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three Democratic gun control proposals into law Wednesday morning, including the controversial ban on high-capacity magazines that has outraged gun owners threatening a recall effort against the governor and ballot measures to reverse the ban.
During a press conference that followed the bill signing, Hickenlooper said that his office has also drafted a signing statement to clarify how the magazine ban should be interpreted.
READ Hickenlooper's signing statement at the bottom of this page.
"I was ambivalent on this to a degree," Hickenlooper said, noting the inconvenience for law-abiding gun owners. "But in the end, these high-capacity magazines turn killers into killing machines. I think the potential for damage seems to outweigh the inconvenience."
The package of gun control legislation has put Colorado at the forefront of a polarizing national debate, but Hickenlooper brushed off the notion that the bills were pushed through, and that the White House or New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's group was controlling the agenda.
"Lawmakers looked at several bills, and some of them didn't stand up to the rigorous discussion," Hickenlooper said, noting that legislation that sought to ban concealed weapons on college campuses was killed.
Tom Sullivan, whose son, Alex, was among the 12 people murdered in the Aurora theater shooting last July, also took issue with the contention that the gun control bills were driven by people outside the state.
"What I'm hoping is no one else has to go through what I've had to go through," Sullivan said. "I don't think another Colorado father should have to prepare a eulogy for his son. My family is here in Colorado. My son was a Coloradan. This wasn't people from out of state doing this. These are Coloradans looking out for other Coloradans."
Bloomberg: 'Colorado a model of progress'
A few hours after the signing, Bloomberg himself issued a statement through his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, praising Colorado's action.
"Extending background checks to cover private sales and limiting high-capacity ammunition magazines are commonsense measures that will keep communities safer without infringing on anyone's Second Amendment rights," said Bloomberg. "As lawmakers in Congress continue the debate over how to reduce gun violence in America, they should look no further than Colorado as a model of progress."
Hickenlooper signed the three bills only a few minutes after an emotional news conference where the governor talked about the shooting death of Tom Clements, the director of Colorado's Department of Corrections.
"In a world that is often cold and hard, Tom always had a big heart," Hickenlooper said.
Following the press conference, the governor immediately left for Monument, where he planned to meet with Clements' family.
Victims' families watch as bills are signed
The various sponsors of the gun control bills joined Hickenlooper during a brief signing ceremony at the Capitol along with several victims of recent gun violence including the Aurora theater shooting and the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, thanked the governor saying today marks eight months since the July 20 shooting during a midnight showing of "The Dark Knight Rises."
"You've given us a real gift today," she told Hickenlooper.
Jane Dougherty, whose sister was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, was teary-eyed as she approached Hickenlooper at the signing table. She said the bills will "make a difference and save lives."
The other two gun control measures signed into law include a measure to require background checks on all gun private gun sales and transfers, which was given final re-approval by the House Friday, and another to impose a small fee to cover the cost of that check that passed the Senate on March 8.
Gov. John Hickenlooper surrounded by Democratic lawmakers at a news conference talking about new gun control laws.
"What we signed today are three bills that make our state safer in the long run," Hickenlooper said during a news conference after the signings.
Opponents outraged, promising political payback
It’s House Bill 1224, the magazine ban, that most gun owners tried desperately to kill. Hickenlooper’s office has been flooded with phone calls, emails and Facebook posts from people asking him to veto the bill.
"I am absolutely committed to defeating Hickenlooper in 2014 and making sure we have a governor who respects the Second Amendment," said Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, who may decide to challenge the governor himself.
Republicans have predicted voters will punish Hickenlooper and Democrats for the three bills, which they call an over reaction and an infringement on gun owners rights.
"We have a sledge-hammer now that we will use in the china shop that is the 2014 election," said Dudley Brown, the director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. "In the past, we've focused our efforts on Republican primaries, but now we're going to destroy Democrats. They need some discipline."
The laws will go into effect July 1.
At least one lawsuit is already in the works.
Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, told FOX31 Denver that his think tank will be leading a lawsuit to overturn the magazine ban and perhaps another to overturn the background checks law.
Dave Kopel, a Second Amendment expert and researcher at the Independence Institute who helped lawmakers amend some of the gun bills as they were debate, will argue the suit on behalf of several plaintiffs, Caldara said.
The suit will be introduced in the next few weeks.
Gov. Hickenlooper's full statement on the signing of House Bill 1224:
In signing HB13-1224, we acknowledge that some have expressed concerns about the vagueness of the law’s definition of “large-capacity magazine.” By its terms, the law does make illegal any magazine manufactured or purchased after July 1, 2013, that is capable of accepting, or is designed to be readily converted to accept, more that 15 rounds of ammunition. Similar language is used in other states’ statutes limiting large-capacity magazines. We know that magazine manufacturers have produced and sell magazines that comply with these other state laws that limit large-capacity magazines and we are aware of no successful legal challenges to those laws. And when a Colorado-based magazine manufacturer came to us to share their concerns about the vagueness of the definition of “large-capacity magazine” contained in the original version of the bill, we worked with the bill’s sponsors to fine-tune the definition to make it more precise.
We also have heard concerns about the requirement in the law that a person who owns a large-capacity magazine prior to the law’s enactment may legally possess that magazine only as long as he or she “maintains continuous possession” of it. We do not believe a reasonable interpretation of the law means that a person must maintain continuous “physical” possession of these items. Responsible maintenance and handling of magazines obviously contemplates that gun owners may allow others to physically hold and handle them under appropriate circumstances. We are confident that law enforcement and the courts will interpret the statute so as to effectuate the lawful use and care of these devices.
In considering the language of HB13-1224, we have consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and we concur with its advice that the large-capacity magazine ban should be construed narrowly to ensure compliance with the requirements of the Second Amendment and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. We have signed HB13-1224 into law based on the understanding that it will be interpreted and applied narrowly and consistently with these important constitutional provisions.
To this end, today we are directing the Colorado Department of Public Safety to consult with the Office of the Attorney General and others, as necessary, with respect to the interpretation of HB13-1224’s large-capacity magazine ban, and then to draft and issue, to law enforcement agencies in the State of Colorado, technical guidance on how the law should be interpreted and enforced. This work should be done by July 1, 2013, the law’s effective date.