Governor Not Ready to Talk Guns

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In the wake of the massacre at an Aurora movie theater, many op-ed pages and TV pundits have announced the reawakening of the gun debate in our society. But Governor John Hickenlooper tells host Ryan Warner it's not the time to talk about any concrete changes to Colorado's gun laws.

[photo credit: Pat Mack/CPR]

Begin transcript:

RW: This is Colorado Matters from Colorado Public Radio. I’m Ryan Warner. Six. That’s how many funerals Governor Hickenlooper has attended so far of people killed in the Aurora movie theater shooting. He says he’s gone on behalf of all Coloradans. I started our regular conversation with the governor by asking him to share an impression of the services.

JH: The thing that was remarkable about really all the services, was the will of the families and their close friends to figure out how this was going to make them stronger. That they were determined to still seek joy as a tribute to who they lost. And that resilience and that kind of inner vitality that I saw again and again was inspiring and that ceremonies again and again captured that in powerful and different ways.

RW: Before this attack of course, the summer had been marked by several devastating fires and you’ve spent a lot of time lately as Consoler-in-Chief. And I wonder what you’ve learned that the public needs from its governor in times like this?

JH: You got me. I mean, I’m not, I think it’s when people have lost more than they ever dreamed they could lose to try and be there and just listen.

RW: You appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press the weekend after the shooting. And the host, David Gregory, asked whether you wanted a re-evaluation of gun laws and you responded in regards to the shooter:

JH: I mean if he couldn’t have gotten access to the guns, what kind of bomb would he have manufactured? We’re at a time in an information age where there’s access to all kinds of information and he was diabolical.

RW: And I just want to put a finer point on this. Are you saying that there shouldn’t be a reexamination of gun laws?

JH: What I really meant was, what I should have said was, I don’t think opening that political battle before we’ve had the memorial services, before people have had a chance to mourn and experience the sorrow for their loss, it just felt inappropriate and in some way disrespectful to the families. So I mean that was, my whole point was, and I cut the question off. I wouldn’t, I didn’t want to go into a discussion, because I think there’s a time and a place for that and I think once we get through all the memorials, that discussion should happen and we should discuss is there an affect from all the violence we see on the media and video games, etcetera. Do we need a stronger, better way of identifying people with mental illness and having an earlier, more successful interventions.

RW: There are some who think this is the right time and to honor the victims is to weigh in on this issue as soon as possible. I mean we’re seeing calls from clergy, calls from law enforcement organizations now for stricter gun laws. Are they wrong?

JH: I’m obviously not going to say someone’s wrong and a lot of, many of these people have had their own experience with disaster and have lost people beloved to them. That’s certainly not that their wrong, it’s just that I don’t agree, I don’t feel that, I feel that our community is better served and certainly the families of these folks, they deserve some period to think about their loved ones without having it translate into politics. And I could be completely wrong on that, that’s just how it felt and I had several conversations where it kind of came up and people really didn’t want to get into it.

RW: Conversations with family members you mean?

JH: Yeah.

RW: That makes my next line of questioning a bit difficult but I feel it’s my place to…

JH: That’s never stopped you before, Ryan.

RW: It’s true but it appears the shooter had this semi-automatic AR-15 and it was outfitted with a magazine that augmented its capabilities by 100 rounds. This is apparently what jammed, either the gun or the magazine and prevented this from being even worse. And I do want to ask you about that magazine. It’s actually illegal in the city of Denver. You can’t buy magazines of twenty bullets or more in the city and I’d like to know whether you think that that should apply to the whole state?

JH: So after I explained to you exactly why I don’t think it’s appropriate to have a policy session, you want to lure me into that poli—You know, I can’t, I mean, do I think we need a semi-automatic weapon that can shoot 100 rounds in a minute or whatever it can do. I’m not sure I see the use of that but I do think we should have those discussions. Just give it a little bit of time.

RW: Tell me when to ask this again. I mean it though…

JH: I will let you know. I’m, I am being as sincere as I can be. I’m not dodging your question. I’ll be happy to sit down and discuss it but I don’t, but it is pretty raw out there with those families. And it’s, I think it’s raw for a lot of people. Not everyone and I’ve gotten letters and emails and I’m aware of the storm out there.

RW: You’ve gotten emails to this effect about guns?

JH: Well that this is an opportunity to engage in a political discussion, that we should take it on right this minute. If we wait, then we lose the urgency of the moment.

RW: How have you been responding to those emails?

JH: Just the same way I responded to you.

RW: You’re listening to Colorado Matters. I’m Ryan Warner and we are speaking with Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper. The Denver Post reported that over the weekend the Aurora Victim Relief Fund grew to $3.1 million. This is a fund that you actually helped set up with an Arvada based group, the Community First Foundation. We’re getting word that some hospitals are going to absorb the cost of caring for victims of the shooting and I’m curious to know what the fund will be used for?

JH: Well I think hopefully hospitals, where they can, will donate the services. I think that’s a tremendous gift and those hospitals that can do it, like Children’s Hospital, was the first I think that stepped up. They deserve our celebration. But there are a number of needs that are going to go on for a long time. Some of the wounded survivors are going to have lifetime disabilities, are going to have a hard time, if even possible, that they can ever work. We have young children lost their breadwinner in the family. The nice thing about the Community First Foundation is they have experience of going into a very complex situation like this and trying to do the very best that someone can of saying all right, what are the community’s priorities here and who does have the greatest need. I can tell you that I think that we’re up to almost $3.5 million now and we’re going to need more.

RW: When do you think payments could start?

JH: You know, I don’t, I know they’ve already paid out $100,000 for a lot of the immediate expenses for a number of the families so they’re engaged. I think the overall, the prioritization is going to require a little more data.

RW: I want to focus a bit on the months leading up to the November election. I would imagine that with your high approval rating, the Obama campaign is hoping that you’ll play a significant role in their efforts in Colorado. Should we expect to see you on stage with the President a lot in the coming months or acting as a surrogate for him?

JH: I don’t know. I mean they certainly, I think to a large extent they feel the President’s record stands on its own but I’m certainly happy to help.

RW: We were watching an interview that you did with CNN a few weeks back and they asked you a lot about the election and Mitt Romney’s record and we kept waiting for you to lash out, to spring into attack mode and you never really did.

JH: Did that surprise you, Ryan?

RW: Well, you know it didn’t but it leads me to this question which is you have worked hard to develop relationships with Republicans and craft a very non-partisan or bi-partisan image for your administration and I wonder if it’s something of a tricky balance to maintain that and help the man you support win the White House.

JH: I mean I have as many good friends who are Republicans as I do Democrats but I think it does, it holds me to a high standard of in my day-to-day, to try to stay as positive as I can about the campaign, and really talk about the reasons why I think the President’s done a good job and we have a lot to gain by his re-election in Colorado and not to get into the negative attacks that both sides seem to use. You know, I did that stupid shower ad when I was running for governor really to kind of point out that there really is no margin in attack ads and negative campaigning but somehow the system seems to be driven by it.

RW: This was an ad in which you, you would go into the shower dressed in a suit actually because the ads that year, the political ads that year were making you feel dirty.

JH: Many suits as a matter of fact. I went in and out of that shower if I remember correctly with eight different suits or changes of clothing. It was a long wet ad to shoot. But it had a point and I still have never done a negative ad in any of my campaigns and I still think that where possible, a positive message is more constructive.

RW: Governor, thank you very much for being with us.

JH: Always a pleasure.

RW: John Hickenlooper is Governor of Colorado. News came out today that he’s separating from his wife, Helen Thorpe. We recorded our interview before that announcement. The couple calls the decision mutual and amicable. Hickenlooper will move into the Governor’s mansion. He’s been living in his private home with his wife and son.