Aurora theater shooting: Colorado members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns respond to tragedy

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The heated gun control debates that have emerged in response to the Aurora theater shooting that left twelve dead have reached elected officials at all different levels of government -- whether they want to talk about it or not. Since Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, arguably the most prominent Colorado member of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, declined to weigh in on gun control, we asked other local mayors for their take on the state's regulation of guns after the Century 16 massacre.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns -- a bipartisan group with more than 600 members across the country -- has been one of the most high-profile politicians to speak out about gun control, starting just hours after James Holmes fired shots in the Aurora movie theater.

It's perhaps a bit easier for Bloomberg to talk policy from the other side of the country than someone local, such as Representative Ed Perlmutter, who quickly voiced his support for the assault weapons ban, but also admitted that it's difficult to discuss laws, no matter how relevant, when the pain of the tragedy is still so fresh.

Boulder Mayor and coalition member Matt Appelbaum echoes these sentiments. "When tragedies like this happen, it's not clear to me that it's the time to really be talking about gun control," he says -- not because those conversations are unimportant, but due to the difficulty of drawing meaningful connections between a single event and large-scale policy arguments.

"If you're going to talk about gun control, it shouldn't be in the context of one incident," he says, adding that people have to remember that gun violence happens every single day across the country without getting any press.

The coalition reports that there are over 30,000 gun deaths in America each year, nearly 12,000 of which are homicides.

"Should we do a better job keeping guns out of the hands of people that cause problems? Absolutely we should," Applebaum says. "Would it have stopped this one incident? Probably not, but that's not the point."

It's obvious the country should talk about the very powerful assault weapons Holmes used in Aurora, he adds.

"It is necessary for us to try and have a rational debate, if that's even possible in this country," says Appelbaum. "But it needs to be in a much broader context."

Page down to read comments from more Colorado mayors. Golden Mayor Marjorie Sloan, also a member of the mayors coalition, says that even though Colorado politicians are still processing this tragedy, it's an appropriate time to talk about gun control -- because the nation is paying attention.

"I know some have said that out of respect, we should not start to debate yet," Sloan acknowledges. "I think out of respect, we should start to debate this. Something positive should come from this terrible incident."

She adds, "I believe we should have been paying attention to this for a long time. We shouldn't have needed an incident like this."

Despite her stance, she says she is not critical of Governor John Hickenlooper who largely dodged questions of gun policy when asked about it in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy.

"The governor had just been visiting the families of the killed, dying and wounded, and I know he's a thoughtful person," Sloan says. "He will probably revisit this issue when he's not in the presence of horrendous actions...[of] a Colorado resident."

The mayors coalition has launched a petition targeting President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney; it demands that they offer concrete solutions to the gun problem that kills 34 people a day in the United States, according to the group's estimate. Since the killings in Aurora, conversations have emerged about assault weapons, access to ammunition online, mental health and background checks and many other facets of gun control. Coalition member Carolyn Cutler, the mayor of Lafayette, says the gun control debates need to be balanced, since it's important to consider both the guns and the people behind them. "What I'd like to see are sensible discussions," she says.

Cutler echoes the frustration of others that gun control is only debated after a high-profile case like this shooting.

"I am terribly sad that Aurora happened and now we're having this discussion again, because it seems like that discussion only comes to the national forefront, the state forefront and the local forefront when there is a tragic accident," she says.

From a policy perspective, she believes local governments should have the ability to enact stricter gun laws.

And in the wake of a tragedy, she says, it makes sense to look at policies across a broad spectrum that could stop something like this from happening in the future.

"Anything that could've prevented this is fair to be on the table," she says.

Like others who have called for gun control, Cutler says it seems obvious that something should be done to better regulate the kinds of powerful weapons Holmes used.

"I personally have an issue with guns that can shoot...a number of rounds in a short time," she says. "I don't understand who in the general public needs those."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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