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July 17, 2013

Year after Colorado theater attack, gun debate rages

DENVER — The last time Colorado enacted gun control measures was in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, and once the laws were on the books there was little acrimony.

The state's latest batch of gun control laws — coming after a gunman's deadly rampage at a suburban Denver movie theater a year ago — has sparked a struggle over guns that shows little signs of fading. Gun rights advocates are trying to recall two state senators who backed the package, and dozens of GOP county sheriffs are suing to overturn it.

"This is going to remain a political hot potato for Democrats for many, many months," said gun-rights activist Ari Armstrong.

Ironically, in the months after the gunman's shooting spree left 12 people dead and injured 70 others, there was little public discussion of gun control here. The shooting at a midnight showing of the Batman film "The Dark Knight Rises" occurred in a key swing county in one of the most hotly-contested battleground states in last year's presidential election.

But President Barack Obama, seeking re-election, did not bring up gun control in a state that cherishes its western frontier image. Neither did most Colorado Democrats.

It wasn't until December's shooting at a Connecticut elementary school left 20 first-graders and six adults dead that gun control rose in prominence. By March, Colorado became the only state outside the Democratic Party's coastal bases to pass sweeping gun control measures, including universal background checks and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

After the Columbine attack, voters closed a loophole that allowed buyers of firearms at gun shows to evade background checks. In the wake of the Aurora massacre, the prospects for more gun control in this libertarian-minded state seemed shaky at best.

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