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CNN "State of the Union with Candy Crowley" - Transcript - Guns and Crime

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CROWLEY (on-camera): The mass shooting at a school in Columbine, Colorado, and a movie theater in Aurora often left the state in the unwelcomed center of the country's long debate about violence. This week, the Colorado governor found himself professionally and personally back in the middle again.

First, he learned that a good friend, Colorado state prison chief, Tom Clements, was gunned down in his own home. It was learned soon thereafter that a person of interest in the Clements murder was an ex-con named Evan Ebel, the long troubled son of another close friend of the governor's. Evan Ebel died in a shootout with Texas authorities following a high speed chase. He is now considered a suspect in the Clements killing. Authorities also suspect Ebel's involvement in the shooting death of a pizza delivery man in Denver. Wednesday, as the tragically coincidental story unfolded, Governor Hickenlooper signed legislation aimed at cutting down on gun violence.

The governor joins me now from Colorado. Governor, thank you so much. A busy and troubling week for you, I know. Let me start with this -- the shooting of your chief prisons official. We are now learning that there may be a link and possibly that this was part of a hit that was ordered by a White supremacist group out of prison that, perhaps, it was retaliation for an effort by prison officials to break up this White supremacist gang. And that, therefore, there may be others on a hit list including yourself. Can you tell me what you know about that part of the investigation?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, the investigation is still ongoing. So, they hate me to talk about it, but we're trying to follow every possible lead. We know that Evan Ebel was connected to the White supremacist group. And so, we're trying to make sure we get all the information we possibly can on why he did what he did. We can't see clearly what a motive was.

CROWLEY: And so, there is the possibility of Evan Ebel's connection and that, perhaps, it was a hit ordered out of prison. Has your security has increased because of concern about that, has it not?

HICKENLOOPER: Well, somewhat. I mean, we've always got security. They've picked it up a bit a little bit, but, you know, I'm not terribly, you know, worried about it. I mean, the whole week was sort of felt like I was in -- I was caught in a nightmare that I couldn't wake up from, right? 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, you know, worrying about security.

CROWLEY: And I am going to assume, of course, that you've spoken to Mr. Clements' family, he being a close friend of yours. Have you also talked to the father of this suspect who, as we said, has been killed? Because I know he was a close friend of yours as well.

HICKENLOOPER: Well, I've known Evan's father for, you know, more than 30 years, when I first came out as a geologist to work in Colorado in 1981. He and I worked at the same company. We've always stayed friends. He's one of the hardest working, most honorable, honest people I've ever known. Just a wonderful person who, I mean, from the beginning his son just seemed to have this bad streak -- this streak of cruelty and anger.

And yet, Jack, I mean, they did everything they could. They tried -- I mean, they worked with Evan again and again, but to no avail. He just had a bad, bad streak.

CROWLEY: Have you spoken with Mr. Ebel?

HICKENLOOPER: Oh, yes. I've talked to him the night when we found out that all the signs seemed to point to Evan. I gave him a call. And he was -- he already knew. And he was just distraught. I mean, he was more upset than I've ever seen him. It's interesting to see that Tom Clements' wife, who is one of the most wonderful people, I mean, they were just a remarkable couple.

And she, of course, spent a couple hours with her on Wednesday deeply distraught. Tom Clements, one of the greatest people I've ever worked with, was kind of the elder statesmen of all our cabinet. But to have two people connected, two people I know so well and love so deeply to be connected by this, just, it's inexplicable.

CROWLEY: It is. I want to move you on to the broader picture of the gun control measures that were in the works prior to obviously this week and the murders et cetera. So, let me ask you about that and ask you to put it in a national perspective. What we have learned about gun control now -- gun control measures now going through Congress is that there is little room for -- or little chance that an assault weapons ban would actually pass.

The administration including Vice President Joe Biden has been out there pushing for a ban on some of these assault weapons. Here's a little bit of what he said in New York City recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For all those who say we shouldn't and can't ban assault weapons, for all those who say the politics are too hard, how can they say that and tell me that you can't take off the street these weapons of war?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Now, governor, the gun legislation that you signed this week in Colorado, a hunting state, has been described as one of the toughest gun laws in the country, and yet, you didn't include semi- assault weapons ban at all. Are the politics just against it or do you think it wouldn't do any good?

HICKENLOOPER: I think we've focused -- you know, after the shootings last summer in the movie theater, we really focused on mental health first then universal background checks. I mean, Colorado is a state that we got some of the best elk hunting, deer hunting, I mean, it's a state where we have a long tradition of a relationship with guns and hunting and that traditional approach from father to child.

So, you know, we tried to look at if we wanted to tighten up a little bit things like universal background checks which clearly make a significant difference, that's where we put our initial focus.

CROWLEY: And do you think that the Congress is wrong not to go after an assault weapons ban or do you think that the politics are there that would quote "sort of protect some of these politicians who feel that the folks are not with them on this?"

HICKENLOOPER: Well, there's just a lot of -- I think the feeling right now around assault weapons at least in Colorado is that they're so hard to define what an assault weapon is. There's a lot of questions whether the tenure ban that was -- federal ban that was in existence made a difference.

And so many -- when I went out and spoke in grand junction yesterday, which is a four-hour drive west of Denver, go over the mountains and out on to the far west part of the state, there are 200 protesters there who were really upset just over, you know, universal background checks and banning the high capacity magazine. So -- CROWLEY: So still --

HICKENLOOPER: Yes. We talk to them.

CROWLEY: Still a tough sell is what you're saying.

HICKENLOOPER: It's a tough sell. They're very worried about government keeping a centralized database which I assured them wasn't going to happen, that this was just the first step in trying to take guns away. I met with the organizers and the leaders of the protest, seven or eight individuals and really tried to hear them. We had, you know, I think a blunt honest dialogue.

But in the end, you know, they asked could they pray for me. And so, they put their hands and we all prayed. I mean, they deeply believe that their guns and the Second Amendment are critical parts of American life. And their integrity and honesty, their conviction, you know, you can't challenge that. And I think, in the end, when they're praying that I'm protected and that my leadership is -- I'm lifted up and supported, you know, I recognize we're not so different, right?

We just got to make sure we get to the same facts and, you know, I try to convince them to recognize that the large magazine capacity -- or the large capacity magazines is an inconvenience, but a lot of people in urban areas think that's, you know, 30 to 40 percent of police officers killed in live duty come from high capacity magazines.

CROWLEY: Governor John Hickenlooper, these debates, I'm sure, will continue to go on, including on Capitol Hill and in your state. Thank you so much for joining us today.

HICKENLOOPER: You bet. My pleasure.

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