John Hickenlooper: How my 11-year-old son inspired me to pass gun safety laws in Colorado
Editor’s note: John Hickenlooper is one of 10 presidential candidates taking part in a Democratic debate Tuesday, July 30, at 8:00 p.m. ET, on CNN. Ten others will debate on Wednesday evening. He is the former governor of Colorado. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own; view more opinion at CNN.
When I was the governor of Colorado, my son, who was just 11 at the time, asked, “Daddy, what do you do all day at work that’s so hard? Make decisions?”
The question came one evening in 2013 when I was particularly exhausted by an ongoing debate I was having with the Colorado legislature over a package of gun safety laws.
The previous summer, a deranged gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and two pistols shot 70 people in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater, killing 12 of them. Just five months later, a young man killed 20 first-graders and six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut.
In both cases — and in many horrific mass shootings since — the gunman used weapons equipped with high-capacity magazines. While many of these shootings last mere minutes, the tragic effects leave a lasting imprint on the survivors and the families of the victims.
The number of mass shootings has risen dramatically in the last few decades, with many of the deadliest shootings taking place in the last few years. Meanwhile, politicians in Washington have done little but talk.
When the deadliest mass shooting in Australian history took place more than 20 years ago, the country passed gun control laws that banned automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles — and has since had far fewer incidents. After the horrific Christchurch mosque shooting earlier this year, New Zealand immediately acted to pass gun safety laws.
In America, members of Congress are still deadlocked on gun control despite the deaths of children and teachers in countless school shootings, the scores of concertgoers who were gunned down from a Las Vegas hotel room, and the 49 people who lost their lives in an Orlando nightclub. Only in America do we respond with ridiculous calls for even more guns and arming teachers. It is a sad reality that active shooter drills are a standard way of life for kids as young as pre-school.
In Colorado, we passed the kind of gun safety laws that other progressive politicians merely talk about. My sixth-grade son showed me the way. Shortly after he asked me about the difficulties of my job, he said, “Dad, just get the facts and make a decision, check, next.”
It turns out he was right.
Thanks to the nudge, I asked the Colorado Office of Public Safety to give me some numbers showing the effect of the limited background checks under Colorado law at the time. Among our state’s population of about 5.5 million, those checks stopped over 3,000 people who had been arrested or convicted of serious crimes from buying guns in 2012, including 38 people for homicide, 133 people for sexual assault, 618 burglars, and 1,380 people for felony assault.
This convinced me that my Republican opponents were absolutely wrong to say that universal background checks wouldn’t catch bad guys. With these additional facts in hand, we strengthened gun safety laws, requiring background checks for all purchases, banning high-capacity gun magazines, and making sure domestic violence abusers didn’t have access to guns.
Responsible gun owners support these and other laws. The real problem is the NRA’s deceitful, scorched-earth politics, which strike fear in the hearts of too many lawmakers.
There is no excuse for inaction. Too many lives have been lost. Too many others have been ruined.
It should be a badge of shame to have an A-rating from the NRA. Anyone repeating their lies should be loudly condemned. The organization also tries to place the blame on the lack of mental health funding. While this is a necessary part of gun violence prevention and something we addressed in Colorado, mental health funding is only part of the solution and diverts us from the real issue: increased gun ownership is associated with higher rates of homicide.
The facts are clear. States with weaker gun laws have more mass shootings. Having a gun in the home is associated with a greater risk of homicide and suicide. Guns in the home are also more likely to be involved in an unintentional shooting, assault or suicide attempt than used to injure or kill in self-defense. And common sense will tell you that a dangerous person is far more of a threat with a gun than without one.
Even my sixth-grader knew that.