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Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper signs landmark gun-control bills

Brennan Linsley / AP file

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, serving as moderator in a debate on gun violence hosted by CELL, the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, listens as University of Colorado law professor and panelist David Kopel speaks against gun control legislation in Denver, Tuesday Feb. 19, 2013.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed landmark new gun laws on Wednesday expanding background checks on gun purchases and limiting the size of ammunition magazines, placing the traditionally firearm-friendly state among the handful to pass new restrictions in the wake of the shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The Democratic governor defended the legislation in a press conference on Wednesday. Hickenlooper said he had found widespread support among state residents for broadening background checks, and dismissed the idea that politicians had been pressured from outside the state.

“This didn’t come from the White House,” Hickenlooper said.

Hickenlooper's signature came the day after the head of Colorado’s Department of Corrections, Tom Clements, was shot and killed in his home, apparently after he answered a ring at his front door, authorities said.

The state has been scarred by some of the deadliest incidents of mass gun violence in recent U.S. history, including the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and the Aurora movie theater shooting that killed 12 last July. The state’s gun control bills have gained national attention since they were first proposed, drawing the ire of those who oppose any new restrictions on gun purchases or ownership.

“We’re all in shock here,” state Senator Greg Brophy, a Republican, said on Wednesday. “It turns out this guy who everybody thought was a moderate Democrat is actually a gun-control governor.”

“I think the governor will be replaced by someone who has Colorado values instead of New York City values,” Brophy said. “If Republicans are returned to control we will repeal these bills immediately.”

Hickenlooper’s signatures came as “great news” to Stephen Barton, 23, who was injured during the Aurora shooting and now works for Mayors Against Illegal Guns. “This is a national problem that requires a national solution, but states like Colorado are making really great efforts to preserve public safety within their states.”

Vice President Joe Biden personally lobbied lawmakers to get enough votes to get the bills through the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives in February. The measures backed by state Democrats cleared the state Senate on March 12.

Republicans put up stiff resistance to the bills, arguing that the measures would not be effective in preventing future mass killings. Some Colorado sheriffs said before the governor signed the bills that they do not plan to enforce new gun-control laws in their districts, according to the Denver Post.

“Why put the effort into enforcing a law that is unenforceable?” Weld County Sheriff John Cooke told the Colorado paper on Monday. “With all of the other crimes that are going on, I don’t have the manpower, the resources or the desire to enforce laws like that.”

The measures also met resistance from magazine-maker Magpul Industries, which said that it would desert its plant about 30 miles from Denver if the proposed magazine limits became law.

Legislators who had opposed new laws restricting gun ownership said on Wednesday the new gun bills may have electoral consequences for state Democrats.

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