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The deadly movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado has become a key issue in at least two tight congressional races in that battleground state. Since the attacks, two Democratic candidates - running in districts in and around Aurora - have called for stricter gun laws. But Republicans have accused them of trying to politicize the tragedy.
From member station KUNC, Kirk Siegler reports.
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KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: On a recent Saturday, Joe Miklosi works the crowd at a local Pipefitters Union picnic.
JOE MIKLOSI: (unintelligible) I'm Joe Miklosi, Democrat for Congress, the pipefitters have endorsed me. Just want to say...
SIEGLER: Miklosi is running in Colorado's newly re-drawn Sixth Congressional District, which includes the movie theater where the Batman shootings took place. He's the underdog trying to unseat an incumbent and hasn't shied away from talking about guns.
MIKLOSI: I mean, my mom owns a handgun and I want her to be able to protect herself. But do we really need 100-round magazine clips? It's like driving a tank down Colfax Avenue or street in Colorado. Is that really necessary?
TYLER HOULTON: I think it's really telling that, you know, President Obama, Governor Hickenlooper, and a whole handful of generally liberal politicians are not saying there's a new need for gun control legislation.
SIEGLER: That's Tyler Houlton, president of the conservative advocacy group Compass Colorado. He says it's too soon to talk about gun control because victims are still grieving.
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UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Perlmutter exploited the Aurora shooting to further his gun control agenda, just 48 hours after the tragedy. And it gets worse...
SIEGLER: Houlton's group is behind this robo-call targeting independent voters in the Seventh Congressional District, where Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter is also in a tight race to save his seat. Part of that district touches Aurora. Perlmutter told CBS's "Face the Nation" after the shootings that Congress can no longer avoid a debate on gun control.
REPRESENTATIVE ED PERLMUTTER: You know, should we reinstate the assault weapons ban? I think we should and I think that's where it starts. We ought to be taking a look at how this guy was able to accumulate so much ammunition.
SIEGLER: After the Columbine shootings, even conservatives like former Congressman Tom Tancredo supported tightening some gun laws. But that federal assault weapons ban has been expired since 2004. And Dave Perry, editor of the Aurora Sentinel newspaper, says the public has since started backing away from the idea that new laws can prevent future tragedies.
DAVE PERRY: And it could well be that there really is no legislation that we can write that's going to protect people from guns or these kind of people who get a hold of them. But it's pathetic that we would allow people to say we don't even want to have this discussion right now.
SIEGLER: Perry's paper, and specifically its editorial page, started pushing Republican Congressman Mike Coffman on the issue. He's in the hotly-contested Sixth Congressional District race against Joe Miklosi. Coffman's campaign declined repeated requests for an interview. But the Congressman has been a firm opponent of new gun control laws. Dave Perry thinks that might play against him in the weeks to come.
PERRY: Out here, where it's people who were affected by a lack of gun legislation that allowed this guy to get the guns and do what he did, he has to walk a really tight line.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: Did we run out of brats? Spicy sausage?
SIEGLER: But the two Democrats in the races may also be walking a tight line calling for more gun-control. Back at the Pipefitter's picnic, a Democratic-friendly venue, Paula Trujillo has just shaken hands with Joe Miklosi. She's puzzled why it's so easy for people like James Holmes to go online and buy a bulletproof vest and no one notices. But when it comes to gun ownership generally...
PAULA TRUJILLO: Like I say, we want our gun in our house, you know, just in case. And we don't want the government taking our guns.
SIEGLER: Trujillo says she's not sure more dialogue about gun control would change people's minds, including hers. Indeed, a poll by the Pew Research Center after the Aurora tragedy found Americans' views mostly unchanged regarding gun ownership.
For NPR News, I'm Kirk Siegler in Denver. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.