Democratic debate: What candidates said about Colorado and gun legislation

During last month’s Republican presidential debate, Colorado played a larger role than any other state because of legalized marijuana. This month, during the Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas, candidates once again elevated Colorado to the national stage. This time it was less about pot, though, and more about gun legislation.

It all started when CNN moderator Anderson Cooper asked Martin O’Malley how he might be able to pass gun legislation in Congress like he did as governor of Maryland. O’Malley said to do so in Maryland he had to overcome opposition from leadership in his own party, and then he said:

Anderson, here tonight in our audience are two people that make this issue very, very real. Sandy and Lonnie Phillips are here from Colorado. And their daughter, Jessie, was one of those who lost their lives in that awful mass shooting in Aurora. Now, to try to transform their grief, they went to court, where sometimes progress does happen when you file in court, but in this case, you want to talk about a—a rigged game…The game was rigged. A man had sold 4,000 rounds of military ammunition to this— this person that killed their daughter, riddled her body with five bullets, and he didn’t even ask where it was going. And not only did their case get thrown out of court, they were slapped with $200,000 in court fees because of the way that the NRA gets its way in our Congress and we take a backseat. It’s time to stand up and pass comprehensive gun safety legislation as a nation.”

O’Malley was talking about a Colorado and federal law that shields gun and ammo sellers from liability after a customer makes a purchase. Here’s a Reuters piece from April about what happened in Colorado after the Phillips family sued those gun dealers in Colorado.

“U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch of Denver sided with the ammo dealers. Late last month, he ruled not only that the Phillipses’ case must be dismissed but also that Lucky Gunner and The Sportsman’s Guide are entitled to fees and costs. Even though Matsch’s decision apparently marks the first time that fees have been granted under Colorado’s law shielding gun and ammo dealers from liability, the judge didn’t provide any explanation of his reasoning.”

After some back and forth among Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (who framed the gun debate as one of rural America vs urban), Jim Webb (who once had an A rating from the NRA), and Hillary Clinton (who stuck it to Sanders as being weak on gun control), Lincoln Chafee, the former governor of Rhode Island, brought the debate once again back to Colorado.

“I have a good record of voting for gun commonsense safety legislation, but the reality is, despite these tragedies that happen time and time again, when legislators step up to pass commonsense gun safety legislation, the gun lobby moves in and tells the people they’re coming to take away your guns,” he said. “And, they’re successful at it. In Colorado and others states, the legislators that vote for commonsense gun safety measures then get defeated.”

Chaffee was talking about two Democratic lawmakers in Colorado, including the president of the Senate, who lost their seats in a 2013 re-call election after helping pass legislation here that mandated background checks for private gun sales and limited ammo magazines to 15 rounds. Democrats, however, took those seats back in the next general election.

Two weeks ago Colorado was on the cover of Newsweek under the headline “God, Guns and Ganja: Colorado is the future of American politics.”

So far in the presidential debates we’ve heard plenty about pot and guns. God, call your office.

Photo credit: Ken, Creative Commons, Flickr