Colorado governor candidates discuss firearm regulation, opioids during Fort Collins forum

Samantha Ye

Over 500 attendees listened to nine gubernatorial candidates speak on pertinent Colorado issues, such as firearm regulation and the opioid crisis, in the Fossil Ridge High School auditorium Saturday.

The Northern Colorado Gubernatorial Candidate Forum let citizens hear some of those candidates speak, possibly for the last time before party caucuses Tuesday.


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The candidates were split into two groups for time and answered pre-chosen questions about firearms, opioids and transportation, among other topics. To keep the event bipartisan, there was no debate or taking questions from the audience during the forum.

Colorado State University political science professor Kyle Saunders and Coloradoan Reporter Nick Coltrain moderated the discussion, which was jointly hosted by Fort Collins for Progress, the Straayer Center for Public Service Leadership and several other northern Colorado groups.

The participating candidates included:

  • Stephen Barlock (Republican): co-chair of the Colorado Trump Campaign
  • Noel Ginsburg (Democrat): Denver businessman
  • Scott Helker (Libertarian): former campaign volunteer
  • Michael Johnston (Democrat): former state senator
  • Cary Kennedy (Democrat): former state treasurer
  • Greg Lopez (Republican): former mayor of Parker, CO
  • Donna Lynne (Democrat): Lieutenant Governor
  • Jared Polis (Democrat): Larimer County Congress representative
  • Erik Underwood (Democrat): former U.S. senate staffer

Firearm Regulation

Barlock said he remembered his experience with a school shooting in 1998 where he said police did not properly respond and school faculty were not around to protect students.

“I want to see teachers protect their students at all means,” Barlock said.

Ginsburg said he supports raising the age limit to 21 for buying a long gun or revolver, those who own guns should be trained to keep their guns secured, and if due to poor security, their guns are used in a crime, the gun owner should be charged with a felony.

“Certainly we should protect the Second Amendment, but what we have in this country is not protecting all of us,” Ginsburg said.

Helker said his concern with Parkland was the government failure upon government failure to stop the shooter before he reached the school. He also advocates for finding out why there are school shootings and what to do from there.

“Obviously, as a libertarian, I’m not going to be pushing for a lot of gun control laws,” Helker said.


A life-long gun owner, Johnston said his plan to prevent more mass shootings would take military style weapons off the streets, require universal background checks, put in place gun violence restraining orders and ban bump stocks. He said these were common sense measures which fit with the Second Amendment.

“There are way to solve these problems if you have the courage to solve them,” Johnston said.

Kennedy said she supports the state’s mandates of universal background checks and believes in a Red Flag law where if a person knows someone who may be a risk to themselves or others, the state can take their guns away.

“It is time that we ban military-style assault weapons in the United States,” Kennedy said.  

Lopez said he does not know if anything could have been done to stop the Parkland shooter from doing what he chose to do and advocates for protecting the children first.

“I think we can all agree that there’s a huge mental health problem in our country,” Lopez said. “How it started, I don’t know. How we’re gonna address it, it’s gonna be a challenge for us because it’s complex.”

Lynne said she supports universal background checks, limiting magazine capacities and banning bump stocks. She said people have to urge Congress to take action on behalf of the entire country and including conversation around domestic violence.

“I think we have to stop linking mental health and guns together,” Lynne said. “There certainly are people who are mentally ill and have guns and commit murders and other things, but that’s an excuse. We have a gun issue in this country.”

Polis said there needs to be common sense measures which fit with the second amendment such as banning military-style weapons, preventing those who have temporary restraining orders from getting a gun, and to allow the Center for Disease Control to research gun violence.

This is a simple case where the public interest and safety needs to win out over special interest politics,” Polis said.

Underwood said he supports a compact with surrounding states for better background checks. 

“Gun should not be in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Underwood said.

Following Parkland, he said he wants to engage and spark civics with the younger people by lowering the voting age to 16 and make it a high school graduation requirement to vote in one election.

Opioid Epidemic and Suicide Rates

Barlock said when Medicare payments are not getting done efficiently, it affects the quality of care doctors give to patients, and make it so doctors prescribe opioids instead of providing good care.

“We think we live in a good raising, growing, booming Colorado–we’re leaving so many people behind,” Barlock said. “Debt is the number one trigger for mental illness right now, and we have to make sure our economy is great for everyone.”

Ginsburg said limiting supply to opioid medication is crucial, but an accessible healthcare system which allows for medicated treatment is important as well.

“We have to recognize when people are addicted and they end up in our criminal justice system, they need to end up in treatment, not in jail,” Ginsburg said.

Helker said the quickest way to get rid of the problem was to strictly limit who can be prescribed opiates and go forward from there because he does not think other programs would work.

“This epidemic came about when they changed the regulations,” Helker said. “Suddenly opiums were no longer addictive, we could give them to a wider group of people, and there’d be no consequences.”

For the drug crisis, Johnston said the state has to get more treatment providers out to rural communities by treating drug addiction instead of criminalizing it and expanding medication-assisted treatment.

“If you want to talk about what the costs of funding public schools are, I would rather you ask what the costs of not funding public schools are,” Johnston said.

Kennedy said a lot of citizens became innocently addicted to drugs and she supports investing to make treatment more accessible and ensuring those in recovery will continue to have support.

“We need to acknowledge and recognize the culpability of the pharmaceutical industry in pushing these drugs in our communities,” Kennedy said.

Lopez said it is necessary to provide good, quality healthcare which includes educating patients about the dangers prescription drugs and that the healthcare industry is for-profit.

“We have to look at: Why are people self-medicating themselves?” Lopez said. “And, why are doctors so eager to prescribe a pill instead of doing healthcare?”

Lynne said the first step to solving the opioid crisis is limiting the supply which means no unlimited prescriptions of opiates just for pain. She said she would improve transparency and affordability of the healthcare system.

“About one in four people in Colorado have some kind of mental illness, and we have to recognize that, we have to destigmatize that, we have to encourage them to get help,” Lynne said.

Polis said the influence of the pharmaceutical industry in pushing opioid prescriptions have contributed to the epidemic and the best way to stop opioid addiction is to stop it before it starts.

Underwood said the lack of funds to provide treatment centers and hospitals, especially in rural Colorado, was yet another reason to repeal the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, the state tax law that prohibits any tax increase without a vote and places strict limits on how much revenue the state can keep or spend.

“It’s not surprising me that we have these issues and situations that are getting out of control when we’re not directing our resources where they need to be,” Underwood said.


See the full forum here and here.

Collegian reporter Samantha Ye can be reached at or on Twitter @samxye4.