Colorado After Aurora Shows Hurdles to Gunbuyer Checks

Colorado’s largest maker of high-capacity ammunition magazines expresses its view of a gun-control push in the legislature this way: A red slash crosses out “Colorado” in the corporate logo on its Facebook page and replaces it with a question mark.

As Democratic lawmakers in its home state press to limit the capacity of magazines and impose other restrictions, Magpul Industries Corp. and a firm that supplies it, Alfred Manufacturing Inc., are threatening to take hundreds of jobs elsewhere.

The legislation’s “sweeping and arbitrary ban on magazines will also make it effectively impossible for this Colorado company to remain here,” wrote Richard Fitzpatrick, a former Marine who founded Magpul in his basement in 1999, and Doug Smith, the company’s chief operating officer, in an open letter to Governor John Hickenlooper and lawmakers that appeared as a full-page ad in the Denver Post on Feb. 17.

The threats place Colorado lawmakers and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, at the center of a debate in Congress and statehouses nationwide: balancing calls to curb gun violence that followed mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, and Aurora, Colorado, with the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

Gun-control legislation is being considered in at least 10 other states including Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Virginia and Vermont. Connecticut’s Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, called yesterday for broadening the state’s ban on assault weapons to include the type of rifle used in the killing of 20 children and six adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Mass Shootings

Colorado’s Hickenlooper said recent mass shootings, coupled with the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in his state, are changing public opinions about guns.

“The tragedies at Columbine and Aurora really bring into sharp focus some of the differences in peoples’ attitudes,” Hickenlooper said at a forum this week sponsored by the Denver Post and the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, a Denver-based nonprofit group that promotes discussion of security issues. “I think because of the horrific nature of those shootings it’s put Colorado at the front of this debate.”

In an interview, Hickenlooper said he planned to talk to executives at Magpul Industries about their concerns.

The Colorado legislature is considering measures that include limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds (eight rounds for shotguns) and requiring background checks for all firearm purchases. The package passed the Democrat-controlled House on Feb. 18.

Democratic Majority

The package is expected to be introduced next week in the Senate, where its prospects are less certain. Democrats hold a 20-15 majority and need 18 votes to pass the bills. Some Democrats have expressed concern about the high-capacity magazine bill, saying they don’t want to drive businesses and jobs out of the state.

Magpul, based in Erie, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Denver, provides work for plastics molders like Alfred Manufacturing, said Greg Alfred, chief executive of the 65-year-old company, in a Feb. 15 letter to Hickenlooper. Magpul’s business helped Alfred grow to 150 employees today from 40 in 2008, he said.

“If HB 1224 passes, we will plain and simply have no choice but to relocate part or all of our operations to another state,” Alfred said.

Limiting Capacity

Limiting the capacity of magazines for firearms such as those used in the Newtown and Aurora shootings has been a focus of gun-control efforts in numerous states.

In Congress, Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, introduced legislation on Jan. 22 to ban the manufacture and sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The measure echoes a House bill sponsored by Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York, and may be the Democrats’ best chance to pass legislation on weapons hardware.

Magpul’s opposition has helped focus much of the debate in Colorado on magazine limits.

“We’ve had a total of 34 massacres and out of the 34 that have taken place in our nation, 28 of them have something in common,” said state Representative Rhonda Fields at a forum this week. Fields, a Democrat whose district includes Aurora, was the House sponsor of the bill to put limits on magazines.

“They all had a high-capacity magazine clip in common,” Fields said. Lives were saved when the shooters paused to reload and “someone was able to tackle that person,” she said.

Massacre Use

High-capacity magazines were used in massacres at Virginia Tech in 2007, Fort Hood in 2009 and Sandy Hook Elementary School. James Holmes, accused of killing 12 people and wounding 58 in the Aurora movie theater shooting, was equipped with a 100-round magazine, police have said.

The gun-control debate is eclipsing other issues in Colorado. About a third of residents own at least one firearm, a legacy of the state’s frontier heritage.

About 80 percent of Coloradans agree that private gun sales should go through a licensed dealer and be subject to a background check, and 61 percent approve of a ban on high-capacity magazines, according to a telephone survey of 905 voters by Keating Research Inc., Dec. 17-20. The margin for error was plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Colorado law currently requires a background check when purchasing weapons at a gun show or through a licensed dealer. Checks on gun show sales were overwhelmingly approved by voters after the Columbine massacre.

Intense Lobbying

Lobbying intensified on both sides of the gun debate after Democratic leaders indicated in January that they’d introduce a package of bills. Gun-rights supporters sponsored ads on local radio stations, while Mayors Against Illegal Guns, affiliated with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, put at least four lobbyists to work in the state capital, according to filings with the Secretary of State. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

“Every time I open my e-mail, I have 50 or 60 on this issue -- it just goes on,” said state Senator Lois Tochtrop, a Thornton Democrat. “The vast majority of them are against not only the high-powered magazines, but all the legislation coming forward.”

Tochtrop said several Democrats were concerned about Magpul’s threat to leave the state, and she hasn’t decided how she’ll vote on the magazine bill.

“I hate to see a business leave the state on legislation that is going to be very hard to enforce,” she said.

Gunmakers are also threatening to leave other states if curbs on firearms are approved. In Maryland, where Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley wants to ban semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Accokeek-based Beretta U.S.A. Corp. said it’s being courted by other states at a legislative hearing this month.

Texas Beckons

Texas Governor Rick Perry and South Carolina Representative Jeff Duncan, both Republicans, recently invited Magpul to relocate to their states, Representative Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, said in a statement on Feb. 20.

Colorado’s gun industry contributed 4,765 jobs, an economic impact of $590.7 million, and $43 million in state tax revenue in 2012, according to data compiled by the Newtown, Connecticut-based National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry group.

These jobs included positions in manufacturing, which employed 133,400 in December, and retail trade, where 244,500 worked in the same period, according to the state’s Labor Department.

While the firearms industry’s contribution to the state’s $264 billion private-sector gross domestic product is small, it has a multiplier effect of two -- meaning it creates a job somewhere else for each person it employs -- that helped prop up Colorado’s struggling manufacturing sector, said Gary Horvath, a Broomfield-based economist.

“The key thing here is that all jobs are important,” he said. “You would hate to see the state lose anyone, particularly given the economy.”

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