GOP Rep. Mike Coffman makes a point during  a town hall gathering at Cherry Creek High School Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018.

(Ann Marie Awad/CPR News)

Mike Coffman, the Republican congressman from Aurora, discovered Tuesday evening that outrage over gun violence in the aftermath of a Florida school shooting reached all the way to his town hall gathering at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village.

By the time Rep. Coffman took the stage there were already protesters outside calling for him to be voted out of office. And throughout the night, nearly every person who was called upon to ask Coffman a question asked him about guns — whether he would support gun control legislation, whether or not he would continue accepting campaign donations from the National Rifle Association, or, most often, what he would do to prevent the next mass shooting.

Coffman, for his part, offered calm responses, thick with policy talk, while his aides attempted to maintain order over a highly vocal audience. The outrage was practically ensured.

Colorado's 6th Congressional District

(Jim Hill, CPR / OpenStreetMap, CARTO)

Coffman, a politician who has received an “A” rating from the NRA in the past, along with more than $30,000 in campaign donations during the 2016 election, held the gathering just a few days after 19-year-old Nicholas Cruz confessed to murdering 17 people with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The first question of the evening: would Coffman stop accepting money from the NRA? The congressman demurred, and talked instead for his support of school safety measures. He then segued into talking about the FBI’s failure to act on warnings about the shooter in last week’s attack. At the first mention of the FBI, the crowd erupted in shouting and boos. A member of the audience shouted “nobody needs an assault rifle!” That episode set the tone for the whole evening.

The next person called also voiced support for gun control measures, citing the killings of officers in Highlands Ranch and Thornton earlier in 2018. Another person grew up near the Florida high school where the most recent shooting took place, and asked how Coffman would ensure the next shooting doesn’t happen. When he started talking about armed security in schools, using the rationale of “force has to be met with force,” members of the audience booed and shouted, “No!”

The next speaker accused Coffman of wanting “to turn our schools into prisons.” The speaker after that said he doesn’t understand how “someone whose district had the Aurora theater shooting in it” could vote to repeal an Obama-era rule that restricted gun access to certain people with psychiatric disabilities.

When the questions weren’t about guns, they were about the tax bill signed into law by President Donald Trump, which Coffman defended as an important measure to make sure the economy would not decline.

Several questions dealt with immigration, specifically, where the 6th District Republican stands. Coffman said he supported the “two-pronged” approach, which would provide some types of protections for people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program along with funding for bolstered border security. When asked if he would support a “clean DREAM Act” — a bill providing protections for childhood arrivals, but that did not include border enforcement language — Coffman called it unrealistic.

Why would he support a bill the president won’t sign, he asked the audience? “[It] absolutely makes no sense,” he said.

When members of the audience weren’t directing their ire at Coffman, they were pointing it at one another. When a speaker said that she was a registered Democrat, a member of the audience elsewhere in the room hissed loudly. Another audience member chided activists for shouting at Coffman, claiming that it did no good. As people were leaving the auditorium at the end of the evening, a shouting match between two audience members broke out.

Tensions were high when Coffman took the stage, and by the end of the evening, the frigid weather seemed to do little to cool hot tempers.

Watch Rep. Mike Coffman's February Town Hall



Posted by Congressman Mike Coffman on Tuesday, February 20, 2018