To Republicans and gun rights groups, the message was clear. "The Obama administration and these East Coast politicians decided that, as Colorado goes, so goes the rest of the nation,'" said GOP state Rep. Mark Waller.
GOP legislators fought furiously to delay the bills' passage. Hundreds of demonstrators circled the state capitol and packed the legislative chambers. Democrats were confident voters were on their side. They have not lost a presidential, gubernatorial or U.S. Senate race for more than a decade, powered by a combination of a growing Hispanic voting population and an influx of coastal moderates.
"The voices that are the loudest (in protest) are not the ones that determine elections here," Laura Chapin, a Democratic strategist who worked for local gun control groups, said after the bills passed.
For gun rights advocates, the movie theater attack exposed serious problems that Democrats were ignoring: Bans on guns in public areas, and the issue of mental health. Holmes purchased his guns legally but also had seen a psychiatrist who feared he was dangerous.
The Century 16 complex forbade guns. If viewers were armed, gun-rights groups argued, they could have stopped the attack. Advocates also noted that, from the limited information that has become public, some officials at the University of Colorado, Denver, where Holmes studied, may have been warned that he could turn violent.
"Let's not pretend our options are binary — do nothing or pass more restrictive gun laws," said Armstrong, the gun-rights activist.
The legislature agreed to a $20 million Hickenlooper plan to expand mental health services. But the gun control package got the most attention. The bill banning larger-capacity magazines squeaked through by a single vote in the state Senate.
Meanwhile, Democratic strongholds like New York, Connecticut and California passed some measures, but gun control packages died in Congress and in liberal-leaning states like Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and even Biden's home state, Delaware.