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story.lead_photo.caption A protester waves a sign as U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colorado, talks during a town hall meeting with constituents in a high school assembly hall Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018, in Greenwood Village, Colo. Coffman was peppered with questions about gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at a school in south Florida last week. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

GREENWOOD VILLAGE, Colo. -- The request for a moment of silence for the 17 people killed last week in the Florida school shooting was met with grumbling and jeers from a Colorado crowd.

"Let's do something for them!" a man yelled at the beginning of Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman's town hall meeting Tuesday night. Another participant cried out, "We're done with thoughts and prayers!"

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

In a district that voted for Democrats Barack Obama in 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016, Coffman has been a perennial political target for Democrats. He is in his fifth term, but Democrats have not made gun control a centerpiece of their campaigns for votes, although the electorate is evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated people.

But this year, the emotions at Coffman's town hall meeting suggested that guns have become a volatile issue in an already hypercharged midterm election, stoking passions that will be difficult for Democrats to contain and difficult for embattled Republicans like Coffman to defend against.

Patti Seno, 53, broke into tears as she recounted how her husband, a firefighter, was on the scene of the Columbine shooting and an attack at a nearby school in 2013 that killed one student. Her son had planned to see a midnight showing of the new Batman movie the night that the gunman attacked the audience in Aurora.

Yet, she told Coffman, she hadn't spoken out until watching students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Fla., campaign for new gun laws.

"I am ashamed, as it took children to shake me from my comfort zone to come forward to say enough is enough," said Seno, a Democrat. "An avalanche is coming to Washington, sir, and it is going to be led by our children."

Coffman has received $34,000 in contributions from the National Rifle Association, more than any other Colorado member of Congress. Gun control activists, sometimes accompanied by family members of those killed in Aurora, have pushed him for years to back more gun restrictions.

Yet even after the Aurora shooting in 2012, Democrats did not mention gun control in their campaign against Coffman. It also barely came up in 2014, after two Democratic state legislators were recalled for passing new state gun restrictions.

"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."

Sharp questions about guns dominated the hourlong town hall meeting. Coffman said he was willing to discuss "reasonable restrictions within the parameters of the Second Amendment," a statement that drew boos from the crowd. He repeatedly declined to back a ban on assault-style weapons but said he'd consider "red flag" laws that would allow the temporary confiscation of firearms from people judged to be a threat to themselves or others.

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-era rule confiscating guns from people judged not competent enough to manage their Social Security benefits. Coffman contended that it was a civil-rights issue, a statement that also drew boos.

A Section on 02/22/2018

Print Headline: Lawmaker gets earful on reining in firearms

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