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Dem Gov. Hickenlooper concedes assault weapons ban ‘tough sell’

Less than a week after signing one of the nation’s toughest gun laws, Colorado’s governor conceded Sunday that banning assault weapons will be a tough sell on Capitol Hill.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper noted that in Colorado – a state that has endured several high-profile mass killings in recent years – the legislature wasn’t able to ban assault weapons.

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“It’s a tough sell,” Hickenlooper explained on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

He said he had encountered 200 protestors defending Second Amendment rights on Saturday at an event in the western part of his state who “prayed” with the governor over Colorado’s new gun laws.

“They were really upset just over universal background checks and banning the high capacity magazines … I met with the leaders of the protest … really tried to hear them … we had a blunt, honest dialogue but in the end they asked could they pray for me,” Hickenlooper told host Candy Crowley.

“They deeply believe that their guns and the Second Amendment are critical parts of American life, he added. 

“I think the feeling right now around assault weapons, at least in Colorado, is that they are so hard to define what an assault weapon is – there’s a lot of questions whether the 10 year federal ban was in existence, made a difference,” Hickenlooper said.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced that the gun violence bill that the Senate will consider soon, will not include an assault weapon ban, to the chagrin of the White House.

Vice President Biden led a commission to examine possible legislative actions to prevent mass killings shortly after the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. late last year.

Biden recommended a ban on the sale of assault weapons and some high-capacity magazine clips. President Obama has pressed for lawmakers to reinstitute that ban, and the White House said last week that they would not stop “pushing” for a vote. 

Reid has said that Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) assault weapons measure could see a vote as an amendment to the gun bill. But Reid warned that the assault weapons ban, which is unlikely to pass the GOP-controlled House could have dragged down other gun-control measures.

For its part, Colorado focused on mental health related issues in their bill to address gun violence. Hickenlooper on Sunday said a step-by-step approach could help build support.

“We focused on mental health first, then universal background checks … which clearly make a significant difference, that’s where we put our initial focus,” Hickenlooper explained.

Hickenlooper was also personally affected by gun violence last week, when the head of Colorado’s prison system was gunned down on Tuesday.

Tom Clements’ suspected assailant, Evan Ebel, happens to be the troubled son of Hickenlooper’s good friend of 30 years.

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Authorities suspect that Clements’ name was on a hit list issued by a brutal white supremacist group in the Colorado prison system – of which Ebel was a member.

Hickenlooper suggested that his name may be on the list as well.

Asked if his security had been increased in light of the hit list, Hickenlooper responded, “somewhat, they picked it up a little bit.”

He said that the emotional toll has been more concerning however.

“I'm not terribly worried about it, the whole week I felt like I was caught in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from that all these things kept happening to people that I loved and they didn't seem to be connected in any way. To me the emotional toll has been much deeper than worrying about security,” Hickenlooper said.

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