Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman at Tuesday's charged town hall.
Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman at Tuesday's charged town hall.
CNN —  

In a state scarred by two of the worst mass shootings in recent memory, it was no surprise that questions about guns kept coming up at Rep. Mike Coffman’s town hall in Greenwood Village, Colorado.

For about an hour Coffman – a moderate GOP congressman in a purple swing district near Denver – fielded questions Tuesday night on everything from health care to DACA. But the minds of most attendees were mainly on guns.

And they were not always happy with Coffman’s answers. During their civil yet highly charged conversation, coming just a week after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the audience even booed him a few times.

Heated debate

From the outset there was jeering during a moment of silence for those killed in the Florida attack.

“We’re done with thoughts and prayers,” someone yelled.

And many in the crowd booed Coffman, considered to be the most vulnerable Republican in Congress, when he told them that he wanted to talk about “reasonable restrictions within the parameters of the Second Amendment.” The folks in the crowd didn’t have much patience for such nuanced talk.

They booed him again when he defended his vote for a bill that would have rolled back a rule, from the Obama administration, allowing for the confiscation of guns from people not competent enough to manage their Social Security benefits.

“I cannot understand how somebody who represented the district that has the Aurora theater in it can say this is a bad idea,” one man told Coffman.

Aurora’s Century 16 Multiplex Theater, where 12 people were gunned down while watching “The Dark Knight Rises” in July 2012, is less than 10 miles from the high school where Coffman’s town hall was held. And Columbine High School, where 12 students and one teacher were slain in April 1999, is 13 miles away. The memories of those tragedies were still fresh for many town hall attendees.

Patti Seno, who identified herself as the wife of a Columbine first responder, said she couldn’t understand why it was legal for younger people to be able to purchase guns.

“There is no way a 19-year-old … with the problems that this young man had,” Seno said, referring to Nikolas Cruz, the suspect in the Florida shooting, “who can’t even buy alcohol, should be able to buy a weapon of mass destruction.”

Looking for balance

Coffman pushed back on the notion that mass shootings can be prevented through gun control.

“We live in an imperfect world. There is no way that you can say that no matter what laws you pass that bad things are not going to happen,” he told the crowd.

He later said the right balance needed to be struck in this debate.

“There is a pervasive feeling, particularly for young people in schools, that they just aren’t safe,” Coffman told CNN affiliate KDVR after the town hall. “And so the focus seemed to be on gun-control legislation versus making sure that the schools are secure. I think there needs to be a balance between both.”