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From Colorado To California, The Gun Control Debate Has Become Personal

Nasya Fair and her son Korbyn, 4, look at a growing memorial for the Colorado Springs, Colo., shooting victims. Colorado and California are the latest states at the center of the gun control debate.
Brent Lewis
Denver Post via Getty Images
Nasya Fair and her son Korbyn, 4, look at a growing memorial for the Colorado Springs, Colo., shooting victims. Colorado and California are the latest states at the center of the gun control debate.

With two deadly mass shootings in California and Colorado in the past week, this country is again in a fierce debate over gun control.

After the massacre in San Bernardino, President Obama encouraged states to take the lead on preventing gun violence. Both California and Colorado have responded to mass shootings recently by passing tougher gun laws.

As the chaotic scene unfolded in San Bernardino, people in Colorado Springs were still trying to make sense of a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic a week ago — and one a month ago in which a gunman carrying an assault-style rifle walked down a residential street, shot and killed three people and wounded several more, before dying in a shootout with police.

That shooting happened just a few months after Emily Kulczyk and her husband moved to Colorado Springs from Chicago.

"I thought it was more of a sleepy little town, everybody is peaceful and calm. And it just feels like, I feel like I'm more likely to be involved in a mass shooting here than in Chicago," Kulczyk says.

Kulczyk says the violence has shaken Colorado Springs, a city of 400,000 people on the front range of the Rockies.

She and some of her neighbors are demanding action. For starters, they're backing a city councilman who has proposed banning open carry within city limits.

"Normally, I think, try and take care of the causes, instead of just the symptoms, but the symptom is so bad that obviously we want to start somewhere," Kulczyk says.

Carrying a gun out in the open is for the most part legal in Colorado, except in the city of Denver. This is actually common — only a handful of states, including California, explicitly ban open carry.

Given the recent shootings, it's easy to see why this single issue could become the new battleground in the national gun debate. Especially when you talk to people like Dave Hoover.

"It tears a hole in you, and there's no reason that people should be going through that," Hoover says. He's talking about losing his nephew, A.J., who was gunned down in the Aurora movie theater shooting in 2012.

Hoover is a cop in suburban Denver. He's been on this beat for 32 years. He responded to Columbine.

He says he's seeing a growing number of people openly carrying, which poses safety challenges for officers. There's no way to know what they're going to do or whether they're even trained.

"We don't want running gun battles in our streets; I don't want my children living in a world like that," Hoover says.

Hoover, a self-described proud gun owner, supported Colorado's 2013 laws expanding background checks and limiting magazine ammunition clips. He points out that close to 700 people have been denied guns in private sales since they went into effect.

Hoover would like to see the state go further after this week.

"Any law about gun-carrying didn't have anything to do with the attack on Planned Parenthood. You had a criminal who showed up and started an attack," Hoover says.

Dave Kopel with the Colorado-based Independence Institute is frustrated over what he calls a knee-jerk reaction for more gun control. The full facts, including the motives of the shooters here and in California, aren't yet known. But he says one thing is settled.

"We need a much stronger safety net of mental health," Kopel says.

That's a common argument in the West — in particular where gun control of any kind is often viewed as unpopular.

Yet over the past week, interviews with a random cross section of folks in conservative Colorado Springs revealed that people are simply exasperated.

"Most of these people that are committing these crimes seem to have some kind of mental illness and it just seems too easy for these people to go in, grab guns and go berserk," says Scott Solberg, who lives a few minutes away from the Planned Parenthood clinic.

There's no end in sight to a fierce debate over how to tackle gun violence in a state that's seen its fair share of mass shootings.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kirk Siegler
As a correspondent on NPR's national desk, Kirk Siegler covers rural life, culture and politics from his base in Boise, Idaho.
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