Governor Tackles Gun Control in State of the State

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Governor John Hickenlooper marked the halfway point in his term by delivering the State of the State address yesterday. The governor presented numerous achievements and proposals, some of which are drawing more attention than others. Colorado Public Radio’s Megan Verlee was there.

Read the full text of the Governor's address.

Reporter Megan Verlee: The marquee moment in the governor’s speech came half an hour in, when he turned to a topic already in the national spotlight: gun control, and the effort to prevent future mass shootings.

Governor John Hickenlooper: "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."

Reporter: The governor’s call to extend background checks to private gun sales got a standing ovation from Democrats. Republicans sat in silence, but they did applaud the governor’s next proposal, a pitch to overhaul the state’s mental health care system.

Hickenlooper: "We have to do a better job identifying and helping people who are a threat to themselves and others."

Reporter: Hickenlooper wants to increase funding for mental health services and make it easier for doctors to commit people they think may be a danger. After the State of the State address, Republican lawmakers like Broomfield Senator Vicky Marble said they’d fight any new gun control measures.

Senator Vicky Marble: "I will not advocate for criminals by taking away the gun rights of law abiding citizens."

Reporter: Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman complained that asking people to go to a gun store for private sales was too burdensome and would not be effective.

Senator Bill Cadman: "I think you’re trying to make a commercialized vendor product out of a private sale. And we have, what, almost 300 million of them in the country? Criminals are going to find a way to get them, regardless."

Reporter: On the other side, Aurora Democrat Rhonda Fields, the background check bill's sponsor, said she was "so elated" to hear her idea in the governor's speech.

Representative Rhonda Fields: "I think it gives credibiility to what I'm trying to do. Not only the governor talking about it, but it's been going on nationally, we've been hearing about it from the presidential committee with Joe Biden."

Reporter: Despite the large reaction, gun control was actually only a small portion of the governor’s speech. Hickenlooper began and ended the address by talking about his administration’s economic development efforts.

Hickenlooper: "We’ve begun an inventory of state assets that the private sector can use to make location and investment decisions. With your support we hope to partner with the Secretary of State and fund a comprehensive 'suite of business services' that will give entrepreneurs additional resources to grow their businesses."

Reporter: Those proposals are part of ongoing efforts to lure more big companies to Colorado, and they struck a chord with Republican lawmaker Kevin Priola.

Representative Kevin Priola: "It was pleasant to see him talk about pro-business, pro-economic growth issues that I think are very important to the state, to everybody in the state."

Reporter: Priola was also happy to hear the governor bring up something else: water policy. Hickenlooper told lawmakers his administration continues to work to have a statewide water plan ready by 2015.

Priola: "I think our forefathers haven’t managed it as well as other states, like Arizona and California have their water resources. So I’m hopeful to work with the governor on those issues as well."

Reporter: While Republicans like Priola found things to like in Hickenlooper’s speech, not everything the governor said said pleased his own party. The governor again emphasized his opposition to local restrictions on oil and gas operations, something some Democratic lawmakers support.

Earlier this week on CPR's Colorado Matters, Reggie Bicha, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, discussed the governor's proposed mental health care overhaul.

[Photo: CPR/MVerlee]