Aurora Theater Shooting

Aurora theater shooting: Dick Lamm not optimistic about reforms to gun policy

Since James Holmes fired shots into an Aurora movie theater -- after purchasing four guns in two months and 6,000 rounds of ammunition off the Internet -- heated gun control debates have emerged nationally and locally, with elected officials questioning whether stricter laws could have stopped this tragedy.

Former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm says the time has come for meaningful reforms -- but he's not confident any policies will actually change in the near future.

"This country is moving to the right and not to the left," Lamm says. "I don't have a lot of optimism that it will change in the short term."

Part of the debate since the massive shooting, which left twelve dead and dozens more injured, has focused on whether it is an appropriate time to even have this discussion on the heels of the tragedy, and whether it makes sense to discuss policy in the context of one incident.

Nationally, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney have gotten pressure from groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns to offer tangible solutions to gun violence in this country (Obama has said that military weapons belong in the hands of soldiers and not on streets, while Romney has said that he doesn't support new gun laws).

Lamm, who was governor of Colorado from 1975 to 1987, and his wife Dottie have been active in a group called SAFE Colorado, or Sane Alternatives to the Firearms Epidemic, which his close friend Arnold Grossman founded after the Columbine shootings (the two have co-authored a book together).

Lamm points to assault weapons as a logical area where regulation could be stricter.

"There seems to be no public-policy reason why you should have assault weapons that can do lots of harm," he says, adding that he has always supported a ban. In the wake of the shootings, Congressman Ed. Perlmutter, who represents Aurora, called for the ban to return.

But, Lamm says, he is well aware of the political dangers of talking about gun control.

"I think it's easy for me to say. I'm out of office," he says.

When asked for his take on the stance of Governor John Hickenlooper, Lamm says he doesn't comment on his successors. Hickenlooper, in the aftermath of the shooting, said that the debates about gun control will happen, but that he doesn't think stricter gun laws would have necessarily stopped someone as deranged as Holmes.

When he was governor, Lamm says he opposed cheap handguns referred to as "Saturday night specials" and says today it's clear that assault weapons, ammunition and clips all deserve to be scrutinized. He also says that he thinks the Second Amendment has often been misinterpreted.

Cities like New York, D.C and Chicago should have the right to ban handguns, he adds.

But ultimately Colorado's status as a key swing state makes it very difficult for officials locally to consider meaningful reforms, he says. And he expects the Obama and Romney campaigns to carefully analyze how gun control comments in response to the Aurora shootings could impact the election in Colorado.

"This is a purple state. Two or three percent could very well separate almost any candidate from each other," Lamm says. He adds that a strong stance on gun control can sway a small minority when it comes time to vote: "They would vote against you. It's the power of the passionate over the indifferent many."

On the national scene, Lamm says, there appears to be overall inaction on meaningful policy changes -- and he thinks gun policy talks in general are headed in the wrong direction. "It seems to me that there's a total lack of leadership on this issue," he says.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: "Lynne Fenton, James Holmes's doctor: Her ex-husband on minor discipline made to look major"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at [email protected].

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