Florida massacre, gun control and how far Coffman is willing to go dominate angry town hall meeting


GREENWOOD VILLAGE | Aurora Congressman Mike Coffman said at a town hall meeting Tuesday he’d look into age restrictions on gun purchases and sides with President Donald Trump’s move to regulate ‘bump stocks,’ devices that allow semiautomatic guns to operate like fully automatic weapons.

Gun legislation dominated the hour-long meeting.

“We’re done with thoughts and prayers,” shouted one man from the audience when a staffer moderating the town hall asked attendees to observe a moment of silence for the 17 victims of a school shooting in Florida.

Coffman’s swing district in Aurora is all too familiar with mass shootings. A few miles to the northeast of the high school that hosted Tuesday’s town hall is the location of the Aurora theater massacre, where 13 people were shot to death in 2012. A few miles to the southwest of the town hall site, just across the district line, is Columbine High School, the site of the 1999 school shooting that killed 12.

Coffman told the crowd he supports strengthening background checks, and that no firearm should be in the hands of an irresponsible gun owner, and said he wondered if an 18-year-old can be a responsible gun owner. But he stopped short of making any indication that he’d support legislation that would limit the purchase of “military-style guns,” which was asked of him by more than one attendee at the town hall.

Before the event, which drew about 250 people to the auditorium at Cherry Creek High School, Coffman told reporters he didn’t think a complete military-style weapon ban is something he’d support, but that he is open to making restrictions that he says would fit within the Second Amendment.

When asked about campaign contributions he regularly takes from the National Rifle Association, which has been under fire since the Parkland, Fla. shooting last week, Coffman said he supports any organization that supports responsible gun ownership.

Opponents of Coffman, namely CD6 congressional candidate Jason Crow, have called on the congressman to return more than $30,000 in campaign donations from the NRA, which has been under fire for its signature opposition to almost all gun control bills that have been considered by Congress.

“The West is different,” said Josh Penry, a veteran GOP strategist and Coffman adviser. “There’s this basic understanding that Congress passing a lot of laws isn’t going to stop evil people from committing evil acts.”

Coffman said there needs to be more action in securing schools, adding that he co-sponsored the School Safety Act, which grants federal money to schools for security purposes.

“We need to meet force with force,” Coffman told the crowd, which hissed at the remark.

On bumpstocks, Coffman followed Trump’s lead. Earlier in the day Trump ordered the Justice Department to move forward on regulations that would ban ‘bump stocks.’

In a letter to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives following the Las Vegas shooting, Coffman asked that bump stocks and similar mechanisms be re-evaluated “to ensure full compliance with the federal law.”

Beyond gun legislation, Coffman said of the Florida shooting, “We need to find out why the FBI never got that information to the field office.” That, too, brought loud jeers from the audience.

He spent much of his time defending some of his previous votes, including for a bill last year to require states to accept concealed-carry permits from other, less-regulated states and another for a bill rolling back an Obama administration rule confiscating guns from people judged not competent enough to manage their Social Security benefits. Coffman contended it was a civil rights issue and noted the American Civil Liberties Union and disability rights groups supported the rollback, a statement that also drew hearty boos.

On immigration, which has again faltered in Congress, Coffman didn’t rule out his BRIDGE Act, which would extend some protections for young immigrants who were illegally brought to the U.S. as children, for three years. If it doesn’t seem there is much movement on a DREAM Act, Coffman said he’d revive a previous discharge petition to force the bill to the floor.

Coffman told reporters just before the event that he’s disappointed in the Senate for its lack of action on the legislation. He added that he didn’t believe the president was helping the issue either.

While more and more has been tacked onto the DREAM Act — most recently chain migration and a lottery system — Coffman said he’d easily support a DREAM Act that only includes border security and a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals order. A clean DREAM Act isn’t realistic, Coffman said.

Similar to previous town halls, in person and over the phone, Coffman drew blowback from his support of the GOP tax plan.

One man, who identified as a Republican and millennial, thanked Coffman for his support of Second Amendment rights, but raised concerns about the tax plan adding trillions more dollars to the national debt. Coffman continued his defense of the plan, saying that doubling the standard deduction is a win for the middle class.

One of the last questions came from a man who said he affiliates as an independent.

“What are you going to do when your personal opinions are of the minority?” he asked.

“I think I represent this district very well,” Coffman said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.