OTERO COUNTY, Colo. — Mac Holder takes a seat on the bench of a weathered wooden shooting table roughly 50 yards in front of a silver beer can impaled upright by a stake.
Here at the firing range of his family’s pheasant and quail ranch on the outskirts of Rocky Ford, dozens of spent shotgun shells litter the parched ground around him. But on this recent afternoon, in his grip is a black Rock River AR-15 outfitted with a 30-round ammunition magazine. Holder pulls back and releases the charging handle, pushing a round into the chamber. He then tucks the butt of the semiautomatic gun into his left shoulder and leans forward, staring down the scope mounted on top. Nine ear-splitting shots pierce the gentle breeze.
“It’s a fun gun. It has low recoil. If you just like to shoot for practice, it’s a great gun,” says Holder, 28, after firing the weapon. “I’ve had it for nine years, keep it locked up and never had any problems with it.”
Far from the gold dome of the state Capitol, and the state’s more populated Front Range, generations of Colorado families like Holder’s have grown up with firearms.
The state that made headlines for two of the most notorious mass shootings in recent history will now take center stage in the debate over gun laws.
Colorado Democrats are poised to unveil a comprehensive package of gun bills as early as this week, even though some members of the party are reluctant to embrace all of the party’s proposals.
The specific bills could cover everything from background checks on the private sales of firearms to a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault weapons.
Another measure aims to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals with mental health issues.
As they roll out stricter gun legislation, Democrats, who control both chambers at the state Capitol, plan to use the shootings at Columbine High School in 1999 and at an Aurora movie theater in July as stark examples of why such measures are needed.
As Colorado prepares to go live with new gun-control laws next week, the political landscape that favored Democrats at the start of the year has changed. Suddenly, Republicans — who began the year almost powerless after the 2012 election — feel they have a rallying cry and a cause they can use to fuel victories.
In what became the most emotionally charged partisan battle of the legislative session, Democrats with zero Republican support — and even some opposition from within the party — passed new laws that limit ammunition magazines and require universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers.
And with those laws now set to take effect Monday, the political effects of these measures are likely to reign as mobilizing issues for months to come, with Republicans announcing their candidacies in an effort to unseat Democrats in both the state Capitol and the governor’s office.
“It most certainly energizes the GOP base and helps develop this narrative about the Democrats’ control of state government this year,” Ken Bickers, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said about the new gun laws.
The legal team backing a supporter of Senate President John Morse on Thursday waged an aggressive attack against the petition process used to recall the state lawmaker.
With straightforward readings of the Colorado Constitution and even an opinion poll, attorneys stressed in a hearing before the secretary of state’s office that the recall effort of the Colorado Springs Democrat failed to meet the basics needed to remove him from office.
Mark Grueskin, who represents the Morse supporter who filed the contest, argued Thursday the constitution clearly outlines that petitions must note the election of a successor to the recalled official — something the petitions in the Morse recall did not do. Grueskin placed the burden on the proponents of the petition and not the secretary of state’s office, which by law is not allowed to offer legal advice.
When retired astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly entered a crammed committee room at the state Capitol on Monday to testify in support of universal gun background checks, heads turned as throngs of cameras flashed at his presence.
The arrival of Kelly, whose wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting outside a Tucson grocery store, not only symbolized his star power as a national figure for stricter gun laws but solidified Colorado’s importance on the national stage in the debate over guns.
Kelly joined Second Amendment scholar David Kopel of the University of Denver; a rape victim from Nevada; and others for what has become a national circuit of individuals engaged in the country’s gun debate.
Coloradans, who have endured mass shootings at Columbine High School and at an Aurora movie theater last year, have long held a mix of ideas about guns that favor the rights of firearms owners, but those opinions have become more nuanced, according to the findings of a new Denver Post poll.
While a majority of respondents expressed support for gun-owner rights, they expressed greater support for specific limitations that would strengthen gun laws.
Proposals that would ban assault-style rifles, limit the number of cartridges allowed in ammunition magazines and require universal background checks on gun sales garnered more than 60 percent support from those polled.
The findings of the poll come after President Barack Obama last week announced a plan to toughen gun-control laws nationally after highly reported mass shootings. A handful of his proposals are already in the works at the state level.
The latest Post poll, conducted the day after Obama’s announcement, found that overall support for the rights of gun owners shrank from an earlier Post poll in September — conducted shortly after the Aurora theater shootings.