DENVER -- In his third annual State of the State address, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper called for universal background checks on gun purchases and told lawmakers that the time is right to have a larger discussion about gun control measures and mental health issues.
Looking to build consensus heading into the legislative session, Hickenlooper said that the legislature's "record of addressing difficult problems together makes it possible to discuss gun violence and mental health.
"We shouldn’t be restrained from discussing any of these issues," Hickenlooper said. "Our democracy demands this type of debate. Let me prime the pump: Why not have universal background checks for all gun sales?"
Democrats stood and applauded that line, as Republicans sat quietly.
"I am so elated," said Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who plans to sponsor legislation to mandate background checks on all gun purchases, including those sold on the private market.
"Ever since the theater shooting, I've been talking about gun safety and trying to come up with some common sense legislation to move us forward. He mentioned universal background checks, so it doesn't get any better than that."
Hickenlooper's comments came before the entire General Assembly and a host of dignitaries that included the state's top elected officials and three men who led the city of Aurora's response to last July's theater shooting, Mayor Steve Hogan, Police Chief Dan Oates and Fire Chief Mike Garcia, who the governor recognized early in the speech.
"During last fall’s Pedal The Plains, as I pushed against a headwind on a two-lane highway between Wray and Burlington, I found myself remembering the summer," Hickenlooper said at the beginning of his 32-minute address, recalling the wildfires that burned across the state and the horrific theater shooting not long after.
After a moment of silence for victims of those tragedies, Hickenlooper lauded all the public servants who responded.
"Less than 90 seconds after the first dispatch, officers were on the scene. Standard response protocols gave way to gut instincts. Police cruisers became make-shift ambulances.
"We met survivors who helped strangers escape the theater and teenagers who rushed their friends to emergency rooms. We mourned with family members whose loved ones died while shielding someone else.
"These are stories of courage and resilience. One victim in an Aurora hospital told me: 'The outpouring of light and love is so much more powerful than any darkness'."
Hickenlooper returned to the issue of gun control later in the speech, outlining his effort to improve Colorado's mental health services and asking lawmakers to find reasonable, bipartisan solutions.
"Surely, Second Amendment advocates and gun control supporters can find common ground in support of this proposition: Let’s examine our laws and make the changes needed to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," Hickenlooper said, as some Republicans stood with their Democratic colleagues in applause.
READ THE FULL TEXT OF HICKENLOOPER'S SPEECH HERE.
Democratic lawmakers are proposing several bills, including expanding background checks for private gun sales, banning guns on college campuses and banning high-capacity magazines.
On Wednesday as the legislature reconvened, gun owners rallied across the street from the Capitol in opposition to such proposals and argued, echoing the NRA, that the only thing that will prevent future gun violence is more "good guys" with guns.
Also Wednesday, Sen. Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley, introduced a bill that would allow teachers and school staffers to carry concealed weapons on campus.
Meanwhile, Hickenlooper Wednesday was among 15 governors who spoke by phone with Vice President Joe Biden, who's charged with leading a task force to determine how the administration will proceed in pursuing gun control measures.
Democrats will pass civil unions and Colorado ASSET
Unlike the first two years of his term when Republicans controlled the House, Hickenlooper will now work with two legislative chambers controlled by Democrats -- a change that could allow him to pursue a bolder legislative agenda while challenging the self-styled moderate to prevent a deluge of Democratic legislation.
In his remarks, Hickenlooper advocated for two controversial pieces of the Democratic agenda that, for the past two years, Republicans have blocked.
"Let's pass civil unions," Hickenlooper said, repeating his call from a year ago.
The civil unions measure, introduced Wednesday as Senate Bill 11, is certain to pass with Democrats controlling both chambers; the same is true for a bill called ASSET that proposes reducing college tuition for undocumented students, which Hickenlooper explicitly implored lawmakers to pass.
"Let’s find an equitable and fair way for undocumented kids – kids who have grown up here and done well in school – to pursue a higher education," Hickenlooper said.
Looking to maintain his moderate persona, Hickenlooper addressed the political dynamic in his remarks.
"While Washington struggles with fiscal cliffs and partisan fights, Colorado demonstrates there is still room for compromise and moderation," he said. "Some have suggested a divided government – that is, divided chambers – has been a blessing for our administration.
"They say I got lucky, but I don’t see it that way. Our blessing was not divided government in the last two years; our blessing was in the many relationships we formed with lawmakers from both parties and that you have with each other.
"These relationships endure. They span the geography of our state and they transcend political affiliation. And they’ve been nourished by our working together helped along every once in a while by a cold Colorado beer.
"The elections have only intensified our desire to demonstrate that Coloradans are different."
Ultimately, the 32-minute address was exactly what you'd expect from a quirky, Democratic governor with a moderate reputation -- or, as 5280 Magazine's Max Potter dubbed it on Twitter, "Hickenlooperian."
Beyond the push for pieces of partisan legislation, Hickenlooper focused lawmakers on their shared commitment to the state and emphasized his background as a business owner and his belief in private enterprise.
And, at the end of a speech with a couple scripted jokes -- some of which went over better than others -- there was a Hickenlooperesque flub as the governor stumbled while delivering his closing lines.
To watch VIDEO of those remarks, CLICK HERE.