Littwin: State Senate’s decision to kill bump-stock ban should count as campaign gift for Dems

Photo by Steve Rainwater, via Flickr: Creative Commons

In the least surprising — and yet, possibly dumbest — news of the week from the Colorado legislature, the Senate GOP decided to kill a bill to ban overwhelmingly unpopular bump stocks.

Among those who support banning bump stocks are Democrats, Unaffiliateds, many Republicans, the Florida legislature, all right-thinking people, Donald Trump.

Among those who don’t, the Colorado Senate, the U.S. Congress, the NRA.

If you want to know how truly unpopular bump stocks are, you don’t need a poll, although the polls favoring a ban do come in at around 80 percent. All you need to know is that even the NRA, in moments of weakness/sanity, has waffled on banning bump stocks, but apparently not for long.

The decision for Senate Republicans to kill the bill might as well qualify as a campaign contribution for state Democrats and especially for Mike Johnston’s run for governor. For Johnston, it was the second huge gun-related gift this week, the first coming in the form of a $1 million check to Johnston’s Super PAC from big-moneyed, gun-control advocate Michael Bloomberg. Johnston may be taking in loads of out-of-state money — which could eventually become a campaign issue — but the bump-stock gift is entirely home grown.

I mean, if you don’t want to thank the NRA, there’s always Dudley Brown and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, who must have surely played their part.

It’s one thing to argue about guns in the coming midterm election campaign — and, despite the risks for Democrats, it looks as if they will — but it’s quite another to be able to make your argument this way: Colorado Republicans can’t even bring themselves to ban an obscure device that can make a semi-automatic rifle nearly as deadly as a machine gun.

Meanwhile, that sound you hear from the now-growing group of Republicans running for governor on bump stocks? Yeah, no sound. It’s not something any of them want to talk about.

Bump stocks have virtually no base of support. Before the Las Vegas massacre, hardly anyone had even heard of them. Killing a bump-stock ban is the Republican way of saying that they won’t support any gun safety measures, no matter how uncontroversial.

In light of that, GOP Senate President Kevin Grantham sent the bill banning bump stocks to a so-called kill committee (does that qualify as irony?), where it was, of course, dismissed on a 3-2 party-line vote.

Killing the ban is a terrible idea for many reasons — we can count at least 58 of them in the Las Vegas shooting— but I want to explain it in terms the legislators can understand.

Here’s the setting for the ban: For the first time since the 2013 gun laws were passed in the legislature, and since the recalls that followed the gun laws, guns have returned to the political forefront. We know what usually happens in the wake of a mass shooting. We should know by now. Maybe you’ve seen that stunning Washington Post report revealing that if you start with Columbine, more than 187,000 students have been on campus during a school shooting.

The drill goes something like this: First, tears and outrage, then thoughts and prayers, then calls for action, then calls for action decried as politicizing a tragedy. And finally, even as we argue the terms of the debate, the issue slips away, the NRA cashes in on another victory and we wait till the next time, which inevitably comes too soon.

To this point, though, it’s working a little differently. For that, you can credit the Stoneman Douglas kids who called BS on thoughts and prayers and demanded something more. And not only did they get something more (if not anywhere nearly enough) from the Florida legislature, they accomplished something possibly more important — keeping the story alive on the cable news shows.

And the polls, which register overwhelming support for issues like assault-style-weapon bans and high-capacity ammunition magazine bans, reflect the ongoing conversation.

In Colorado, there’s another dynamic at work. Gun safety is an obvious issue for the first competitive Democratic governor’s primary in years. And Jared Polis — still presumed to be the primary favorite despite Cary Kennedy’s impressive victory in the caucuses — has a wobbly past on assault weapon bans.

And Mike Johnston, who needs the boost, has worked hard to make guns his issue. He has already done his first campaign ad on guns. And it can’t be that long — here’s a guess, anyway — before he and/or Kennedy bring back Polis’ quote from 2013 when Congress was considering renewing a ban on assault weapons.

See how this Polis’ five-year-old quote on a ban plays today: “I believe it would make it harder for Colorado families to defend themselves and also interfere with the recreational use of guns by law-abiding Coloradans. If we want to reduce violence, we should invest in improving our schools to ensure that young people have jobs and do not turn to gangs, crime or violence of any form, and improving access to mental health services.”

Recently, Polis has become a co-sponsor of a House bill — one that will never come to a vote, by the way — to, yes, ban assault weapons. In any case, it’s going to be an issue in the primary and almost certainly in the general election.

And so, come November, we will, of course, hear the Republican candidate accusing the Democrats of wanting to grab your guns. That’s an old story, sort of like Democrats saying Republicans are in the pockets of the NRA. But this time, the debate takes a sharp turn.

You can read and re-read the 2nd Amendment. But I promise that you won’t be able to find anything in there about the need for devices that make life easier for the next mass murderer.

Photo by Steve Rainwater, via Flickr: Creative Commons


  1. This is outrageous – there is every reason to ban bump stocks. The only reason this did not pass in the state senate was Republicans battling Democrats like Senator Michael Johnston for higher office. It’s a political game that is absolutely stupid and very threatening to our lives and those of our children.

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