What the Heck Happened in Colorado?

Colorado passes restrictive gun control legislation against backdrop of gun culture and violence.


Sponsors and family members of victims watch as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signs control bills into law Wednesday at the Capitol in Denver.

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Hours after Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a high-capacity magazine ban into law, Magpul, a leading weapons accessory manufacturer in the state, began the process of packing up its production facilities and moving out of state.

"We expect the first PMAGs to be made outside CO within 30 days of the signing," Magpul Industries announced on its Facebook page. "It is disappointing to us that money and a social agenda from outside the state have apparently penetrated the American West to control our legislature and Governor, but we feel confident that Colorado residents can still take the state back through recalls, ballot initiatives, and the 2014 election."

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Gun rights groups have sprung into action, promising to obliterate any vulnerable Democrats who supported the sweeping gun legislation which included a ban on magazines over 15 rounds, and background checks on online ammunition purchases. Dudley Brown, a Colorado-based gun lobbyist and executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, says the state's gun lovers are motivated, mad and ready to act.

"The Democratic Party underestimated the public outrage they generated," Brown says. "We are working on harnessing that. The Democrats just handed me a sledgehammer and I am going to wave it through their china shop."

Since the legislation became law two days ago, Brown says his group's been flooded with donations, emails and promises of support.

"People who care about firearms, they are tuned in," says Brown. "People who weren't motivated to walk a district for a Republican are going to be motivated this time."

But in Colorado, the evolution of gun control has been a long-time coming and Democratic strategists promise it is not going to be overturned.

[SEE: The Gun Control Debate, in Plain English]

Changing demographics have played a major role in the state's evolving gun culture. The state's largest city, Denver, is one of the fastest growing in the country and the state's political map gets more secure for Democrats each year. The state's Hispanic population has also contributed to growing support for stricter gun legislation. Polls show Latino voters are more likely to support bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

But the state's shared experience of tragedy has also contributed to a change in how the state sees guns. Colorado has been the scene of two of the deadliest mass shootings in the country. After two high schoolers murdered 12 classmates at Columbine High School in 1999, the state voted to close the gun-show loophole. But in 2012 the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., that killed 12 and injured 58 combined with an elementary school shooting that happened across the country in Connecticut, tipped the scales for the moderate Democratic governor to put stronger laws on the books.

"People understood that doing nothing was not an option," says Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist based in Denver.

Chapin says lawmakers could not ignore the dozens of testimonies coming from the families of victims.

"To have them talking about what happened, it is the most powerful thing that can be said," Chapin says. "These are just families, not celebrities, not anyone famous. These are families you see and work with every day in the community."

[PHOTOS: Colorado Movie Theater Shooting]

Colorado resident Jane Dougherty was one of those who spoke out.

Dougherty lost her sister Mary Sherlach, a school counselor, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December. Sherlach was one of the leaders at the school who rushed into the hallway when she heard gunshots.

"If my sister had the courage to run toward the gunman to protect children, I could have the courage to speak out in Colorado," Dougherty says. "For me, going through the whole experience of getting the phone call, the chaos in your home, trying to get your whole family across the country at Christmas. It galvanizes you to do something. I could not just go back to my life and pretend."