(Photo: CPR/Megan Verlee)

Gun purchases in Colorado have fallen by more than a third this year, after an unprecedented surge of buying last year.

In the aftermath of the Aurora theater and Newtown, Connecticut mass shootings, debate swirled about gun control, stoking fear that certain guns would be outlawed.  

Through the first five months of this year the Colorado Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has approved 146,800 firearm background checks, compared with 231,566 checks over the same period in 2013. That's 84,766 fewer guns, a 37 percent drop.

The volume of gun purchases this year represents a return to normal after a flurry of activity in late 2012 and early 2013, when gun control was hotly debated nationwide.

“There was a little bit of panic,” that the government was going to crack down on certain types of weapons, says Josh Steinsiek, manager of The Gun Room gun store in Denver.

Sales, Steinsiek says, boomed across the board. “It was everything from ammo to bullets to reloading components, just any kind of gun, hunting rifles, all that stuff just exploded during that time.”

Demand was unlike anything Colorado had seen before and shelves were quickly emptied. In December 2012 alone CBI approved a record 56,791 background checks, an 89 percent increase from the year before. Steinsiek says he’s still working to rebuild the store’s inventory.

Pro-gun control advocates say customers were duped by propaganda that the government was coming after their guns.

“They just fell into the gun lobby trap of, ‘you better buy more guns while the price is high, and we can make the most profit,’” says former Colorado Springs state Sen. John Morse. “And people did, in droves.”

Morse, and fellow Democrat state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, were kicked out of office in recall elections over their role in passing Colorado’s gun control measures. A third state senator, Evie Hudak, resigned her seat rather than face a recall.

The laws, passed in 2013, limited magazine size to 15 rounds and instituted background checks for all gun sales, specifically private party transfers. Both measures survived a recent challenge in federal court.

Since last July, when background checks for all gun purchases went into effect, CBI has denied 260 private sale gun requests.