Gun-control advocate Gabby Giffords to endorse John Hickenlooper for US Senate

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Former Rep. Gabby Giffords of Arizona who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, flanked by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., left, and Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., right, joins House Democrats in a call for action on gun safety legislation on the House steps Wednesday morning after the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas this week, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Giffords has endorsed Colorado senatorial candidate and former Gov. John Hickenlooper, based on his support for gun control. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

AURORA | Gun-control advocate and former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is again planning an endorsement trip to Aurora. This time it will be for John Hickenlooper in the U.S. Senate race. 

“A lot has changed in the last severn years. Gun safety legislation went from a political third rail to a winning issue,” said Peter Ambler, executive director of Giffords, the group the former congresswoman founded with her husband to endorse and support candidates, policy and legislation.

“Colorado has a long tradition and history with gun ownership but has seen firsthand the devastation of gun violence,” he said. “Voters are keenly aware of the need to balance rights with responsibilities to elect people who will stand up for the safety of communities.”

During his tenure as Colorado governor, Hickenlooper saw firsthand the outcomes of gun violence, at funerals for Aurora theater shooting victims, Tom Clements, head of the Colorado Department of Corrections, and Claire Davis, who was killed at Arapahoe High School. 

“I am honored and humbled to earn an endorsement from Gabby Giffords and the organization she founded to combat gun violence. As Colorado’s governor, I saw up close the horrific damage gun violence inflicted on our communities,” Hickenlooper said in a statement to the Sentinel. “Gabby and I worked together to take on the NRA and pass gun safety legislation here, and I’m running to bring that same drive to the United States Senate and finally pass common sense gun safety legislation like universal background checks. All Americans deserve to live without fear of gun violence in our schools, theaters, or malls.”

The former governor signed landmark — and controversial — gun legislation in 2013. One law banned ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds and another required all private and online gun sales perform a background check. That year, two state Senators were recalled over voting for the bills. Opponents of the bills said the legislation further divided a split between urban and rural Colorado.  

Those laws are a leading reason why Giffords is endorsing Hickenlooper over other Democratic candidates, Ambler said. 

“He was there when it counted,” Ambler said of Hickenlooper. “He was the first purple state governor in the country to advance common sense safer gun laws through the legislature. It might seem easy now, but it was tough then, and it took a lot of political courage.” 

Hickenlooper made those efforts a cornerstone of his bid for president last year. Last year,  the Colorado Sun said the former governor’s resume “requires a series of asterisks,” including his record on gun legislation, “not an issue he came to immediately,” the online publication wrote.

After the theater shooting Hickenlooper said on ABC News that shooter James Holmes would have likely created “horror” without guns.

Giffords, who was shot at an event with constituents in her district in 2011, is expected to make the endorsement announcement in Aurora on March 9. She previously endorsed Aurora Congressman Jason Crow and defeated mayoral candidate Omar Montgomery, who lost to former Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman. Giffords made trips to the city for both candidates. 

Ambler said Crow’s win in the 6th Congressional District in 2018 is evidence that there’s power in a gun safety candidate challenging a NRA-backed candidate.

“Colorado has a long traditions and history with gun ownership but has seen firsthand the devastation of gun violence. Voters are keenly aware of the need to balance rights with responsibilities to elect people who will stand up for the safety of communities,” Ambler said. “We saw that in 2018 when we elected Jason Crow…We look forward to doing that in 2020 by defeating Cory Gardner.”

The Giffords organization said it didn’t have information on ads supporting Hickenlooper yet. The group did target Gardner last year during a $750,000 ad campaign last year to pressure the Senate to back universal background checks.