Colorado has expanded gun background checks and limited the size of ammunition magazines, even as the U.S. Senate has stepped back from some of its more controversial gun control proposals.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat in a Western state where gun-control issues are politically sensitive, signed the law exactly eight months after a gunman shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killing 12 people and injuring about 70.
The signing of the tough Colorado bill comes a day after Majority Leader Harry Reid dropped California Sen. Dianne Feinstein's proposed assault weapons ban from a broader gun package to help ensure passage of other more popular measures. Feinstein vows to bring up the ban as an amendment to the larger bill.
Hickenlooper signed the bill after a somber news conference in which he described the killing of Colorado prisons chief Tom Clements, who shot Tuesday night when he answered the door at his Monument, Colo., home. Police said they were seeking clues and a motive for the shooting Tuesday night.
The three gun control laws require a fee and expand background checks on possible buyers and limit the size of ammunition magazines to no more than 15 rounds. Their passage had been a tough political fight in the legislature.
Hickenlooper made no comments as he signed the bills and the only sound was the applause from those at the ceremony, including relatives of the Aurora movie theater massacre, which occurred July 20, 2012.
Sandy Phillips, whose daughter Jessica Ghawi was killed in the movie theater, told Hickenlooper that Wednesday marked eight months since the shooting. The suspect, James E. Holmes, faces trial on 166 counts of murder, attempted murder and weapons violations in connection with the shooting. This month, a judge entered a not guilty plea after defense lawyers said they were not ready to enter a plea on behalf of Holmes.
“You’ve given us a real gift today,” Phillips said. Phillips also said to Hickenlooper later, “Thank you so much; you’re leading the entire country.”
“Colorado has taken the first steps in leading other Western states and the rest of the nation to embrace change in our gun culture without infringing on our 2nd Amendment rights,” Phillips said in a prepared statement released by the advocacy group The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “We ask the citizens of the country to take action for change that will make our homes, streets, theaters, churches, schools, restaurants, malls and shopping centers safe again.”
Jane Dougherty, whose sister Mary Sherlach. a psychologist, killed in the rampage last year at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., was teary-eyed as she approached Hickenlooper at the signing table.
A lone gunman, Adam Lanza, shot and killed 20 children and six adults in the Dec. 14 attack on the school. He had shot his mother before going to the school. Lanza ended the rampage by committing suicide in the school building.
Both attacks, and others in recent years, have set off the current drive to deal with gun violence. The gun-control campaign has always faced a tough road in the Congress, where the National Rifle Assn. is considered an important lobbying force, particularly among Republicans and conservative Democrats.
Gun-control advocates have had more success on the state, level with new legislation in New York and elsewhere. But there have been setbacks as well in Washington state and in New Mexico, where background check bills have been stalled.
Staff writer Richard Simon contributed to this report from Washington.