Hickenlooper clarifies remarks to sheriffs: ‘I’d sign the magazine ban again’

DENVER — Under fire from both Republicans and Democrats over his effort to appease a group of Colorado’s sheriffs still steamed about the state’s new gun laws, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Friday that he hasn’t changed his tune and still supports the controversial ban on high-capacity magazines.

In his first interview on the subject, Hickenlooper told FOX31 Denver that he wasn’t aware he was being filmed last Friday during a meeting with the sheriffs in Aspen when he appeared to backpedal on the magazine ban, agreeing with one sheriff that it was unenforceable and telling the group that he didn’t expect the legislation to even make it to his desk.

The remarks, he said Friday, were an effort to apologize to sheriffs who felt their voices weren’t heard during last year’s legislative process, not a disavowal of the magazine ban itself.

“I didn’t say it’s unenforceable, I said it’s difficult to enforce,” Hickenlooper said. “A lot of laws are difficult to enforce; that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there. If we went through the process again, I’d sign it again.”

In video footage obtained by the conservative website Revealing Politics, Hickenlooper told the sheriffs that he signed the magazine ban in part because a staffer had already told the bill’s sponsor that he would; and he erroneously stated that he never talked to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose group Mayors Against Illegal Guns led the lobbying effort on behalf of the magazine ban and an expanded background checks measure (phone records had already revealed calls between Hickenlooper and Bloomberg).

A week after the meeting with the sheriffs, the governor explained that he and his staff made the decision last year to sign House Bill 1224, which bans magazines of more than 15 rounds, more than a month before the legislation reached his desk; and he said that he wouldn’t have allowed the senate to vote on the controversial measure — three Democratic senators who supported the ban were ousted from office last fall as part of a recall effort in response to the gun bills — if he were considering a veto.

“I talked to Bloomberg, but it was after we already made the decision,” Hickenlooper said Friday. “He didn’t call and lobby me or have any influence on the decision I made about the bill. That’s what I was trying to get across.”

The bill was signed into law last March.

As far as the staffer’s promise, Hickenlooper had told the sheriffs that, “Once you give your word, or someone who works for you gives your word for you — someone who has the responsibility and the ability to do that — generally you try not to go back on that.”

On Friday, he acknowledged that he wasn’t hamstrung by a staffer’s promise but that he and staffers made the decision to sign the magazine ban and that any promises made by staffers were at his own direction.

He also acknowledged the heartburn his apparent backpedaling may have caused the families of gun violence victims who supported the tougher gun control laws.

“I didn’t know that this was public, that this was going to be recorded,” Hickenlooper said. “If any of those families — if I caused them any offense, I certainly regret that. A large part of why we went through that process and why those bills got passed is that we didn’t want any family going through what they’ve already had to go through.”

Overall, Hickenlooper came away from the discussion with the sheriffs feeling like it had gone well. He didn’t hear about recordings of the conversation causing a stir until he was boarding a flight to Mexico for a three day trade mission on Monday.

“I gave the sheriffs the benefit of the doubt, and I think most of them appreciated that. I wasn’t trying to persuade them or win them over. I was trying to make sure we have a good relationship,” said Hickenlooper.

Even though the sheriffs were initially named as plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new gun laws, Hickenlooper was surprised they spent as much time as they did asking questions on the subject.

“Maybe I thought it would come up, but I didn’t think they would be so animated about it,” he said a week later. “I’m an optimist. I went up there and thought well, if they feel they weren’t heard, I’ll apologize and we’ll go forward. I was trying to figure out how we work together going forward.

“I was under no illusion they would change their minds,” he continued. “They asked me questions, and I tried to give them honest, unscripted, candid answers. I was me.”

WATCH FOX31 Denver’s exclusive interview with Hickenlooper tonight at 5 p.m.