Insights: Common ground on guns remains slippery and muddy in Colorado

Author: Joey Bunch - February 27, 2018 - Updated: February 28, 2018


Maybe if partisans didn’t go too far. I don’t know. It confounds me why we can’t talk constructively about guns in this state, or this nation, without both sides shutting down. Indecision lives in gridlock.

If one side didn’t insinuate the other doesn’t care about dead children, would that be so hard to do for the sake of a compromise? And what if the other didn’t point back and say “gun grabber” who hates what America stands for — what would happen then?

We don’t know because it almost never happens. The aftermath of horror is just too predictable. The aftermath is always politics.

I’ve covered both sides of this argument for decades. I retold the stories of survivors from Columbine 10 years after. In the hours and days after the Aurora theater shooting, I talked to people who fled in terror. I attended funerals and memorials. I worked for a nightmare of a week in Newtown, Conn., immediately after the rifle-enabled savagery at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

In 1993, the killer was in handcuffs and a doctor named Gunn lay dead when I reached the abortion clinic where it happened in Pensacola, Fla. It felt too familiar a year later when it happened again, this time killing a physician who carried a .357 Magnum for protection. He likely never saw the bullet fired by a minister who said he was acting in the name of God. My father was carrying a gun when he was killed, but three bullets pierced in his chest before he could reach for it.  He bled to death on a barroom floor. I was 3 years old.

None of us are casual observers to such violence. Some are lucky enough to be more cavalier than others.

We all see the same problem, lunatics with guns, but we go at the solutions from far different perspectives, and we wind up nowhere. Is it the gun or is it the insanity, why can’t we address both?

Patrick Neville, the Colorado House Republican leader, was a student at Columbine High School that day in the 1999, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris signed their name in history with the blood of Neville’s classmates. After high school Neville joined the Army and carried a gun for his country. He was a platoon leader in Iraq at the battle of Sadr City, where eight Americans died and 65 more were wounded in 2004. At the time, it was the bloodiest day of fighting for American troops since Vietnam.

He believes Americans have the right to protect themselves, without hoping the government can get there in time.

His two young daughters were with him at the Capitol on the Friday before Presidents Day. They lit up joy when they saw their grandfather, state Sen. Tim Neville, in the granite hallway on the second floor. The youngest daughter, Hannah, who’s 4, had two small spiral notebooks. In one she was writing about her school. In the other,  Hannah was writing about her life.

“Am I going to be in it?” the Republican senator-grandpa asked her with genuine excitement.

How dare anyone suggest the Nevilles don’t care about children. I can promise you they do, or I can sock you in the nose if you say that twice.

But what if we had a real conversation, instead, with open minds instead of hard heads, common ground instead of hidden agendas? We don’t know, because it almost never happens.

Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler signaled he’s ready to talk the day after 17 people were killed at a Florida high school. He sat before a legislative committee beside Tom Sullivan, a Democrat who ran unsuccessfully for state Senate in 2016. Sullivan’s 27-year-old son, Alex, was shot to death in row 12, seat 12 of the Aurora movie theater where 12 people were killed and 70 were wounded in 2012.

Brauchler prosecuted the killer, James Holmes.

Sullivan and Brauchler support a bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Liston of Colorado Springs, who is a gun-rights proponent. It would raise the penalties for a burglar who steals firearms, ammunition or accessories, a prime pathway to how criminals and crazy people get guns, like the one that killed my father.

“It’s the right step to take,” said Brauchler, the lone Republican running for Colorado attorney general, a job won by only two Democrats since 1950. “It’s not the only step we might end up having to take, and I agree with Mr. Sullivan, it’s part of a bigger conversation.”

Since the massacre in Las Vegas in October, states and cities, including Denver and the Colorado legislature, are moving to ban bump stocks, the device that allowed the killer to spray a country music concert with bullets from a hotel window above.

Yet the muddy, slippery middle ground on guns is a modern invention, and it focuses nearly entirely on regulations. It wasn’t always so.

The godfather of the most of the things conservatives hold dear, Ronald Reagan, supported what today would be unimaginable — principled nuance. Reagan supported an assault-weapons ban.

“I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense,” the icon said. “But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home.”

In 1994, Reagan, Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford joined President Clinton to push for the ban and push back against the NRA.

Reagan also restricted carrying of loaded guns in national parks. Decades later, Barack Obama, a president opponents predicted would grab guns, overturned that ban during his first month in office.

Guns turn politics upside down, just like they do lives. Perspectives in this country, however, seem unshakable.

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch

Joey Bunch is the senior political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has a 31-year career in journalism, including the last 15 in Colorado. He was part of the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013 and is a two-time Pulitzer finalist. His resume includes covering high school sports, the environment, the casino industry and civil rights in the South, as well as a short stint at CNN.

One comment

  • LSEdmonds

    February 28, 2018 at 5:30 am

    Good read Joey. I would like to add,.The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Second Admendment has nothing to do with hunting. The ignorance on display regarding the Second Amendment and its history is troubling and is due to the fact that no one really teaches about our rights ensconced in our Constitution.

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