DENVER (AP) — Colorado's Gov. John Hickenlooper said "the time is right" for state lawmakers to consider gun control measures, offering his firmest stance in the aftermath of several high-profile shootings, including a movie theater rampage in suburban Denver, that have shocked the nation.
The Democratic governor upset some in his party for not taking a stronger position when he said last summer that stricter laws would not haven't prevented the mass shooting in Aurora.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Hickenlooper said that the legislative session in January would be an appropriate time to take up a debate on gun control in his state.
"I wanted to have at least a couple of months off after the shooting in Aurora to let people process and grieve and get a little space, but it is, I think, now is the time is right," Hickenlooper said.
The comments also come after a mass shooting at an Oregon mall and a murder-suicide involving a professional football player this month touched off a national debate over gun laws.
Hickenlooper said the issues that merit discussion include "things like, do we all need assault weapons?" which he said are "designed for warfare" and "designed to pierce bulletproof vests and body armor."
Former neuroscience graduate student James Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the July movie shootings. He has been in jail since the attack and has not entered a plea in the case.
Hickenlooper did not call for specific legislation, but did give a strong indication of what kind of debates and proposals he'd like to see.
"When you look at what happened in Aurora, a great deal of that damage was from the large magazine on the AR-15 (rifle). I think we need to have that discussion and say, 'Where is this appropriate?'"
He said many guns exist now and that there's no "immediate solution" for stopping gun violence. But he quoted Tom Mauser, the father of one of the students killed over a decade ago in the Columbine High School shootings, saying, "If you don't start now, you're not going to get anywhere."
One of the nation's most popular governors, Hickenlooper also tried to put to rest talk about a potential presidential run in 2016. Hickenlooper said he and his Cabinet decided a couple of weeks ago that they wanted to focus on improving health care and education in the state in the next three years.
"What I'm saying is, we're not going to spend any time on it, which essentially makes it impossible," he said.
Hickenlooper also said he believes he's too moderate to survive a Democratic primary.
"I mean if you really think about it, realistically, I am so moderate I would be difficult candidate to imagine succeeding anywhere," he said.
Hickenlooper has long prided himself on being a moderate who tries to forge compromises between Republicans and Democrats. But the upcoming session could pose challenges to Hickenlooper with Democrats controlling both chambers of the Legislature, unlike the previous two years of split legislative control. Now legislation that Republicans heavily oppose can actually get to Hickenlooper's desk, forcing him to take difficult stances.
Gun control could be at the top of the list.
"I don't think it's appropriate to try to capitalize on tragedies to further some political agenda," said Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Mark Waller, the GOP's incoming House leader.
Waller said he agrees with what Hickenlooper said initially after the Aurora shootings that further restrictions on guns would not have prevented what happened.
Boulder Democratic Rep. Claire Levy said she doesn't like to legislate in response to specific events, but she applauded Hickenlooper for his comments.
"I applaud him for being willing to have a conversation that could be contentious and invokes a lot of strong emotions on people on both sides," said Levy, who is considering legislation to prohibit public colleges from allowing concealed-carry guns on college campuses.