Maybe the most dangerous place in Colorado to support gun-control is at the state capitol. After helping pass modest new gun laws, two senators were recalled in special elections and the “gunnies” are working to recall another senate supporter now.
Gun-law reform advocates fear that when the NRA and its legislative allies call for repeal of the new laws in the next legislative session, which starts in January, anxious Democrats will jump on board, or at least out of the way.
So a coalition of groups that includes Colorado Ceasefire, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Hunters Against Gun Violence held a news conference at the capitol Monday morning to remind shaky legislators why they voted for the gun laws in the first place. They’re calling their campaign Stand Strong Colorado.
“This is not just an abstract concept, gun violence. It is hitting people’s lives,” said Colorado Ceasefire President Eileen McCarron.
Some family members affected by gun violence were there to tell the stories of loss: Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, and Dave Hoover, who lost his nephew A.J. Boik the same night.
“In a month and a half, our legislators are going to be back here, and there will be tremendous efforts to repeal the laws we got. They’re going to try to scare the bejesus out of legislators, particularly in swing districts,” McCarron said.
The recall elections were predictably angry affairs. Gun-rights groups tapped into aggressive and defensive emotions.
The Stand Strong group is likewise an emotional kind of politics. But it’s more about reflective sorrow. It conjures the stunned sadness that comes in the wake of today’s routine, high-tragedy massacres.
Two-dozen people stood on the steps of the capitol, facing the Rockies, holding Colorado Ceasefire signs. Half a dozen journalists watched from below. Speakers said they wanted to curtail gun violence. Many had been with Ceasefire for years. Others were actively campaigning to prevent Senator Evie Hudak’s recall.
“I’m having a difficult time hearing his voice,” Sullivan said of his son Alex, who was killed at the Aurora shootings. Sullivan said he felt he needed to take a stand.
The trauma of gun violence became a rallying point for the nation in the wake of Sandy Hook, and for a moment it seemed as if gun laws in America would change. Reform had momentum.
In total, five gun control bills were passed in Colorado last spring. They were painted as extreme measures that would curtail basic rights in dramatic fashion. “Not one law abiding citizen will lose their gun due to these laws,” McCarron said.
The Colorado gun laws include background checks for any gun ownership transfer. Gun buyers, rather than taxpayers, are required to pay for the checks. The new laws also ban high-capacity magazines, like the ones used in the Aurora and Sandy Hook killings last year, and help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Obtaining a permit to carry a concealed weapon must be done in person now, rather than online.
But the reaction to the laws has changed politics in Colorado. The political contentiousness will likely keep Gov. John Hickenlooper, who’s running for re-election, quiet on gun issues.He has advised gun-control groups to stay away from the current efforts to recall Hudak. During the last recall campaign, millions of dollars flooded to both sides of the recall from national interests. When Michael Bloomberg donated to the entrenched senators, they took political hits from opponents quick to point to the out-of-state influence.
If Hudak is recalled, the Democrats will lose their majority in the Senate, which would mean a split legislature. Democrats still control the House.
“Having special elections every few months is no way to run a democracy,” McCarron said.
Jane Dougherty’s sister Mary Sherlach was murdered in Sandy Hook 11 months ago.
She told the Independent that, growing up in upstate New York, her older sister was the one in charge, the trouble-shooter, the leader among five siblings. They called her Little Mother and she kept them in line. Dougherty said that’s how her sister led her life —- strong, impassioned. She said her sister loved children and was dedicated to helping kids who struggled in school. She worked in Sandy Hook as a psychologist for 18 years.
Dougherty was home with her young son and her granddaughter and they had just put in a Christmas movie when her husband called her to ask if she’d been watching the news.
“I said No, and he said There’s been a shooting, and I said Where? and he said Connecticut. Then the panic and the chaos ensued.”
Dougherty watched horrified as the events unfolded on TV. She was familiar with gun violence, but it had never hit home.
After Columbine, near where she lives, Dougherty said she didn’t speak up. Columbine and the Deer Creek Middle School shooting that followed years later traumatized her community. She knows the math teacher who took the gun from the shooter’s hand at Deer Creek. But it wasn’t until her sister’s death that she began testifying at the legislature.
“I didn’t expect to be here. It’s kind of a path I ended up on,” Dougherty said. “People tend to think ‘It doesn’t happen in our town. It won’t happen to me.’ I’m here to tell people that’s not true.”
Research on the effectiveness of gun control is hard to come by – thanks to intense lobbying efforts by the NRA. The literature is contradictory. People still argue about whether more gun owners translates to more safety or to more death.