Aurora theater shooting: Ed Perlmutter and the challenge of talking about gun control

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When asked about gun laws on Sunday -- two days after James Holmes fired shots into an Aurora movie theater in one of the largest mass shootings in American history -- Representative Ed Perlmutter backed reinstatement of the assaults weapon ban. The comments, on live national TV, made him one of the few local politicians to say something concrete about gun control laws in the wake of the tragedy. But he tells us that as he continues to mourn, and as Aurora continues to suffer, it is challenging to talk policy.

"It's raw. I'm raw. And yes it's difficult [to discuss gun control].... This isn't something I relish," he says. "But it's something I must address.... We cannot avoid the subject."

His remarks reflect the balancing act elected officials in Colorado have faced in the tragedy's immediate aftermath.

When is the appropriate time to talk about specific policy matters on gun control? Advocates have criticized politicians for not taking a concrete stance and offering policy solutions -- especially after a mass shooting where the suspect was able to buy one AR-15 assault rifle, one Remington 870 twelve-gauge shotgun and two forty-caliber Glock handguns, as well as a one hundred-round drum magazine that experts say can shoot fifty to sixty rounds in a minute.

But at the same time, elected officials also can get a lot of heat for "politicizing" a tragedy even before the families of the twelve killed in the shooting have buried their loved ones.

And on a personal level, it can just be tough to wade into political debates during a period of deep mourning, as is the case with Perlmutter, who describes the last week as incredibly painful.

"It's been very much an emotional roller coaster for me, because I just know how hard it is on everybody in our community," he says.

"The experience is horrible. We will recover, but we will never be the same," says Perlmutter, whose district includes Aurora. "We all live in a great place, and this is where I get choked up. We will rebound from this, but it still hurts."

Perlmutter says he supports stricter gun control, although he prefers to call it "crime control."

"I'm not trying to 'control' guns," he says. "If you're a hunter, God bless you. If you feel you need something for personal protection, that's fine. But I want to stop these crimes. I want to stop these mass killings, these mass murders."

As we've noted earlier, Governor John Hickenlooper declined to weigh in on the gun control debates on Sunday, and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock -- who is part of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition -- followed suit, offering only a broad statement on the matter when we asked him specifically about gun policies.

Contrast that with what Perlmutter said Sunday on Face the Nation:

That conversation really isn't taking place, although I can tell you, I pulled out of my driveway yesterday, and a lady was walking her dog and she said this has gone too far. We have got to do something.... I think this is really a congressional issue that has to be dealt with. You know, should we reinstate the assault weapons ban? I think we should, and I think that's where it starts. We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition. He had enough ammunition for like a small army. There's something wrong about that.

The quote made headlines at several outlets.

Perlmutter tells us that he has since met with Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat who has been very vocal on gun control, and discussed the assault weapons ban and other measures that legislators should consider in the wake of the tragedy.

"I wanted to let her know I wanted to work on these different issues," he says, referencing the regulation of powerful rapid-fire weaponry, extended magazines, the online purchases of ammunition and other areas that might play a role in these kinds of tragedies.

Page down to see more comments from Perlmutter and from congressional candidate Joe Coors. "From Columbine to Gabby Giffords getting shot to this -- and then Virginia Tech a little farther away -- we've had a number of these mass killings," says Perlmutter. He adds that while his number one focus in office is still on jobs, the issue of guns is a huge priority.

He also reiterates what he said on Sunday -- that this topic is very much something Congress needs to tackle. "It's a legislative issue," he says.

He says he generally agrees with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who has been perhaps the most vocal high-profile official to speak out on gun control after the Aurora shootings, specifically calling on Obama and Romney to offer concrete solutions. But Perlmutter says that it's important to pressure Congress and the officials who have the power to write legislation.

Perlmutter says this idea also applies to governors, when asked for his take on Hickenlooper's response. "The governor is in an executive position just as the president is in an executive position. They are responsible for enforcing law."

He adds, "The governor...has been one tremendous leader in a very hard summer for Colorado.... I'm so proud of him."

While he is starting to have these conversations, Perlmutter says foremost on his mind is still the immediate pain of the event.

"We need to mourn and grieve, and we are, and everybody is," he says. "I can't tell you how many funerals I've got in the next couple of days."

The staff working for Joe Coors, the Republican congressional candidate hoping to unseat Perlmutter, declined to make the candidate -- who nabbed the endorsement of the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund earlier this month -- available for an interview on the matter.

His spokeswoman, Michelle Yi, sent along the statement Coors issued last Friday, as news broke about the attack.

Words can't capture the horror and tragedy of the shooting this morning in Aurora. The families and loved ones of the victims, as well as the emergency and medical professionals are in mine and Gail's thoughts and prayers.

She also shared this one about gun control, attributed directly to Yi:

Right now, our campaign is focused on giving the victims' families and loved ones a time to mourn. There will be a time to debate the issues, but for now, we need to continue to pray for everyone affected by the Aurora Shooting.

Here's the video of Perlmutter on Face the Nation.

More from our Aurora Theater Shooting archive: Aurora theater shooting: Michael Hancock declines to speak out on gun control

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

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