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Colorado governor signs tough gun laws in wake of mass shootings

Updated at 11:45 a.m. -- Colorado Gov.
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signs three gun control bills into law in his office at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, March, 20, 2013. The three gun control bills include one banning ammunition magazines with more than 15 rounds in a state...
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signs three gun control bills into law in his office at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, March, 20, 2013. The three...

Updated at 11:45 a.m. -- Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed some of the toughest gun legislation in the country into law on Wednesday. The measures set ammunition magazine limits to 15 rounds and eight shot gun shells and expand background checks on firearms to sales and transfers between private parties and online purchases. It will also require gun purchasers to foot the bill on the checks. The laws go into effect July 1.

Republicans in the state see the measures as a gun grab, calling the legislation a "knee-jerk" reaction to recent shootings in Connecticut and Colorado and arguing that it restricts their Second Amendment rights. Republican backed-ideas to combat gun violence in the wake of tragedy in Newtown, Conn., including laws allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons and requiring armed security guards at schools that banned concealed weapons, were shut down in Colorado's Democratic legislature. GOP House leader Mark Waller said that Colorado Republicans are "disappointed" and maintain that Colorado Democrats are passing these laws "without any proof that banning this is going to have any impact on public safety." Proof may be lacking, but there’s a reason for that.

With many in Washington looking to Colorado as a bellwether, Hickenlooper's signature could be a catalyst for action on gun control legislation on Capitol Hill. Before the governor's pen was all but put to paper, Colorado Rep. Ray Scott said that Republicans' "only hope now is if his pen runs out of ink."

The landmark gun legislation comes just hours after Tom Clements, the state’s executive director of the Corrections Department, was shot and killed in his home Tuesday night. Police are still searching for the gunman. In a press conference Wednesday morning, Gov. Hickenlooper expressed great sadness at the loss of Clements. He called this incident, which is still under investigation, “an act of intimidation” that would not deter the Colorado legislature from going forward with their work. “We expect to sign the bills, answer the questions, and try to move this state forward,” Hickenlooper said.

The Centennial State has seen two of the deadliest mass shootings in the nation's history happen on its own soil. Most recently the July movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., that took the lives of a dozen people and injured 58,  and the school shooting at Columbine that left 12 students and one teacher dead in 1999. In the aftermath of Columbine, gun show loopholes were closed and legislation passed that required checks at gun retail shops as well, but no other major legislation was pushed in the previously gun-friendly state.

Still outstanding in the Colorado legislature are Senate laws banning online certification for concealed-carry permits and a measure that would bar gun purchases for domestic violence offenders. Hickenlooper previously expressed that he was undecided on the measure and would wait to see final wording before making a decision.  Described by The New York Times as a "data-driven Western Democrat who takes his son shooting," Hickenlooper himself is an unlikely crusader for gun control.

A Keating Research poll found that 80% of Coloradans agreed with expanded background checks and 61% supported magazine limits.