Littwin: Shooting blanks

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] stunning thing happened Monday at the Senate committee hearing to repeal background checks for private gun sales.

Nothing happened. The hearing couldn’t have been less electric if they had scheduled it in MetLife Stadium. It was the biggest upset since, well, you know.

This was supposed to be Day One of the assault on John Hickenlooper and the Democrats for the modest gun legislation they passed last year. It was supposed to be the first chance to ride the momentum from Recall Summer that would — if successful — carry the Republicans all the way to Replace November.

I wouldn’t say the day was an embarrassment for the Republicans — because, as Peyton Manning cautioned us, that would be an insult — but, as big-day disappointments go, this one had everything but someone hiking the ball into the end zone.

[pullquote]The Colorado private-gun-sales background-checks hearing couldn’t have been less electric if they had scheduled it in MetLife Stadium. It was the biggest upset since, well, you know.[/pullquote]

The game plan failed. There was no midstream change of strategy. The big guns didn’t show.

Sound familiar?

Last year, when Democrats were introducing their gun bills, everyone knew they had the votes. They controlled both houses and the governor’s office. They had the emotions still raw from Sandy Hook and Aurora.

What Republicans had was a plan. They had organized chaos. They had hundreds of supporters filling the Capitol to overflowing. They had people all day circling the place in their cars, honking their horns. Revolution was in the air.

All Democrats could figure to do was cram all the committee hearings into a single day and try to make it all go away. We know how well that worked.

The Democrats got most of their bills passed, but people who came to testify were turned away. And the recalls ended up being not just about guns — but also about people not being heard.

This time, Democrats, who still have the votes, promised everyone would get a chance to be heard. The problem for the gunnies — Jon Caldara’s word — is that hardly anyone showed up. The room was full — with a couple hundred people on hand. But there were nearly twice as many people testifying to keep the background checks as there were testifying to repeal them.

There were no rallies. There were no horns or other instruments. Maybe — and this is what has to worry Republicans, particularly those running for, say, governor — the issue has peaked. Maybe the fact that, according to the polls, 80-some percent of Coloradans favor background checks played a role. Maybe, that was all so 2013.

Or, in the nightmare scenario, the problem could be that the background checks are actually working.

In a strange coincidence of time and place, the bill’s sponsor was George Rivera, who won his recall election over Angela Giron. And one of the two Republicans on the five-person committee was Bernie Herpin, who won his recall election over then-Senate President John Morse. If it was a big day for the pair, though, it wasn’t necessarily a good day.

Rivera looked every bit the rookie — stumbling in his defense of the repeal bill and not especially prepared to serve up softball questions to his allies. He said voters had sent him to the Senate to fight against the gun bills. But it was Sen. Irene Aguilar, one of the Democrats on the committee, who came out fighting, asking Rivera tough questions.

Rivera said he favored background checks — just not these background checks. And why not? Because, he said, they were vague and onerous. Why vague? Well, let’s just say he was pretty vague about the answer. If criminals were turned down by private-sales background checks, he said, that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t just turn around and get guns elsewhere. But why wouldn’t that apply to all background checks? He couldn’t say.

And Bernie Herpin, in questioning CBI director Ron Sloan about background checks, said he was sure that dangerous criminals were unlikely to risk trying to buy guns when faced with background checks.

Sloan said he was “constantly amazed” by the people who try to buy guns and that “188 fugitives from justice” were stopped by background checks in 2013.

Since July, 104 would-be gun buyers have been stopped because of the private-sale background checks, including one for homicide and 16 for assault. If you listened to the testimony from Republicans last year, you knew that wasn’t supposed to happen. These would be deals between friends, people who knew each other. Criminals would be a rarity.

And yet, according to Sloan’s numbers, virtually the same percentage of people — just under 2 percent — were stopped from buying guns with these checks as were stopped by gun-store and gun-show checks.

If the private-sales law hadn’t been in effect, 104 people who shouldn’t have guns would have had them. And that’s the number who were caught knowing there was some risk. What if there had been no risk?

Democrats made that point repeatedly. This year, the Democrats were on the offensive. In a pre-hearing news conference, Rep. Rhonda Fields put it this way: Those who want to repeal the law “want to make it easier for felons and other dangerous people to buy guns.”

Aguilar made a similar point, asking Rivera: “Do you think it’s a good policy to keep guns out of the hands of criminals?”

The law, it seems, wasn’t about relatives loaning guns to relatives. It was about a true loophole in background checks.

The repeal bill, sent to the fabled kill committee, was voted down, 3-2, as expected. There will be other hearings, of course. And some will be on the controversial limit on the size of ammunition magazines, which may make for a more dramatic day.

But this was Day One, a day when everyone would be watching. What they saw, for one hearing at least, was the anti-gun-laws momentum slowing down. And what they heard was about the 104 would-be gun buyers who were stopped.

[ Image by woodleywonderworks ]


  1. One thing I’ve noticed over the years and I’ve heard it said by others is that republicans think you’re stupid. And apparently at least Mr Rivera thinks you’re INCREDIBLY stupid. He really thinks that there is some logic and level of SANITY to his statements.

    So he’s for background checks but not these ones, because crooks will get guns elsewhere? There is supposed to be SOME logic there? I’d sure like to know where it lies.

    There is also the question in my mind of actual representation. It’s been shown that 80% of the citizens of this state WANT background checks, and now that you’ve got them, we don’t actually want them gone. And yet, here we have a man standing there telling us that he’s been sent to repeal background checks. So he listens to 20% of the public to make his decisions by? Seems to be, since the recall election had about 20% turnout, if the polls can be trusted. So much for the will of the majority meaning anything in this state, anymore.

    You guys lost your way, thinking that because you got a few of your fellow gun nuts out in an off year, off month recall election, that the rest of us want anything to do with your blue steel addiction. We don’t. We prefer it when crazy people can’t get guns. We’ll deal with the real crooks when it’s their time. But stop trying to leave us completely defenseless against unbalanced people being able to amass weaponry suitable for war, not civilized every day life.

  2. If the truth be known it is mainly “men” who hold these fantasies to be self evident that all men were created to carry guns.

    I have to laugh to myself when I think of Charlton Heston a once great actor turned NRA zealot hoisting a musket over head uttering the ridiculous “in my cold dead hands”. I feel sadness and pity for Heston who’s films thrilled many of us reduced to a clown.

    He became a comedic image of senility for the NRA and all it’s claims to 2nd amendment rights. There’s more to the Bill of Rights than the 2nd Amendment which is not a sacrosanct edict from God as the NRA patriots would have us believe in their zealotry to paint themselves as victims of a tyrannical government.

    They are a minority faction of extremists of the type Madison spoke of in the Federalist #10 when he wrote, “By a faction, I mean a group of citizens, either a majority or minority, united and actuated by a common passion or interest adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the aggregate interests of the community”.

    In my opinion the NRA is adverse to anyone who opposes their common passion thereby threatening the rights of those of us who disagree with their hostile and zealous views of the intent and purpose of the 2nd amendment. They are hardly the victim but the aggressor and oppressor of the rights of others who oppose them. They guilty on all counts.

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