WASHINGTON – A heated debate over gun control awaits the U.S. Congress when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next month, but Colorado Republicans don’t appear likely to back any sweeping reforms.
In response to requests from the Colorado Independent, only one of the four Republicans in Colorado’s U.S. congressional delegation suggested he may be willing to support a legislative option for curbing access to guns.
GOP Rep. Scott Tipton (R-3rd), a gun rights supporter, said in a statement that solutions to end gun violence are “difficult to achieve.”
But his spokesman Matt Atwood said Tipton may be open to “red flag” proposals, which would allow firearms to be confiscated from those deemed a threat to themselves or others. He “wants to make sure due process is not violated,” Atwood said.
Enacted in 17 states – including Colorado — and the District of Columbia, such laws were endorsed by President Donald Trump after recent mass shootings in Texas, Ohio and California. Colorado’s version of red flag, which goes into effect in January, has been controversial, with roughly half of the state’s sheriffs or county commissions declaring themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, citing concerns over due process. Other Colorado sheriffs have been actively advocating for the law, saying it will save lives.
McConnell has said the chamber will debate gun control when lawmakers reconvene from recess in September, and some top congressional Republicans have expressed an increased willingness to wade into the politically thorny territory. But it’s far from certain that lawmakers will reach a deal on the divisive issue where compromise has eluded them in the past.
“The fact that Mitch McConnell and [South Carolina Republican Sen.] Lindsey Graham and Donald Trump all feel some level of pressure to at least say that they are going to consider some gun violence prevention bills is a pretty big sign of progress,” said Chelsea Parsons, vice president of gun violence prevention policy at the Center for American Progress.
The other GOP members of Colorado’s delegation didn’t respond to requests for comment about whether they might support gun control legislation, but they’ve been reluctant to do so in the past.
Sen. Cory Gardner called the shootings in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton “devastating” at a recent event in Aspen but reiterated that he “does not support gun control,” according to the VailDaily.
GOP Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn (4th and 5th Districts) have received high marks from Gun Owners of America (GOA), a conservative pro-gun group. In February, Tipton, Buck and Lamborn voted against legislation that would require background checks on all firearm sales and increase the background check length from three to 10 days.
Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats have gotten more aggressive on the issue, especially after shootings in their home state.
“In the past, our Democrats were iffy on guns up there in Washington,” said Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, an advocacy group. “But they aren’t now.”
To start, there are now four Democrats in the U.S. House – up from three in the last Congress. All four are members of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force and support major gun safety legislation, such as expanding universal background checks and banning assault weapons.
In the Senate, Democrat Michael Bennet – who’s running for the White House in 2020 – also supports major gun safety legislation, according to his spokeswoman Courtney Gidner. Earlier in his tenure, however, voted to allow Amtrak passengers to carry guns in checked bags — a vote in line with the gun rights movement.
While Bennet is “not a leader on this, by any means,” McCarron said Democrats have “moved in a stronger position” since she began working on the issue in 1999 – the year two teen gunmen killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Littleton.
She attributes the long-term trend in part to “the awful things that have happened here.”
In 2012, another gunman opened fire at a movie theater in Aurora, killing 12 and wounding 70 others. This year, nine students were shot – one fatally – at the STEM School Highlands Ranch in Douglas County.
McCarron also cites the “big blue wave” that swept across the state last fall. In addition to winning a majority of seats in the congressional delegation, Democrats won all statewide offices and majority control of the state House and Senate – a phenomenon that hasn’t happened since 1936.
Last fall’s elections showed that gun safety is not the “third rail” it once was — even in the West. In the 6th District in the central part of the state, Democratic Rep. Jason Crow, a hunter and former Army ranger, staked his campaign in part on gun violence prevention — making it the subject of his first campaign ad. He beat Mike Coffman, a five-term Republican, by more than 10 points.
Calls for action
This month, Colorado Democrats are making loud calls for action on guns — especially in the wake of the recent mass shootings.
Bennet is among those who have called for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to cut the August recess short and reconvene the Senate to take up the issue, Gidner said.
So have the state’s four House Democrats: Crow and Reps. Diana DeGette (1st District), Joe Neguse (2nd District) and Ed Perlmutter (7th District). They signed a joint letter to McConnell urging him reconvene the Senate to clear the background check legislation passed earlier this year by the House (which all four supported).
DeGette earlier today tweeted that the House Judiciary Committee would be returning from recess early to take up gun legislation.
There is no legitimate reason why anyone, other than law enforcement or members of our military, should need a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. One of the most important things we can do right now to protect our communities is ban these high-capacity magazines.
— Rep. Diana DeGette (@RepDianaDeGette) August 16, 2019
They’re making the case in the national news media and on social media, too.
McConnell “must stop playing political games and bring gun safety bills to the Senate floor,” Crow wrote this week in a USA Today op-ed. “Senators must have the courage to tell the American people where they stand and not hide behind the majority leader any longer.”
“Americans are ready for action,” Perlmutter said in a statement. “If empty promises continue to be made, the American people will have the opportunity to decide how to move our country forward.”
The nonpartisan organization tallies contributions dating back to 1989 from political action committees. The numbers include donations from individuals who gave $200 or more to members of Congress, but also include some smaller contributions.
Sen. Cory Gardner: $91,471 from gun rights groups
Sen. Michael Bennet: $18,671 from gun control groups
Rep. Diana DeGette: $6,250 from gun control groups
Rep. Joe Neguse: $3,000 from gun control groups
Rep. Scott Tipton: $89,380 from gun rights groups
Rep. Ken Buck: $89,873 from gun rights groups
Rep. Doug Lamborn: $48,440 from gun rights groups
Rep. Jason Crow: $13 from gun rights groups and $50,082 from gun control groups
Rep. Ed Perlmutter: $6,800 from gun control groups
Newsroom’s Washington bureau chief Robin Bravender contributed to this report.