On September 10, Colorado voters recalled state legislators—Senators John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo (both Democrats)—for the first time in state history. A Fox News headline tersely summarizes a central reason: “Colorado state senators recalled over gun control support.”
Obviously, the Democrats’ support for legislation restricting gun rights is a major element of the story. But it’s certainly not the only element. What else were the recalls about?
Dave Kopel, lead researcher for the Independence Institute and a major proponent of the right to keep and bear arms, goes so far as to argue that this is the major reason for the recall. Kopel writes for Volokh.com:
Morse and Giron sealed their fates on March 4, the day that the anti-gun bills were heard in Senate committees. At Morse’s instruction, only 90 minutes of testimony per side were allowed on each of the gun bills. As a result, hundreds of Colorado citizens were prevented from testifying even briefly. Many of them had driven hours to come to the Capitol, traveling from all over the state. That same day, 30 Sheriffs came to testify. They too were shut out, with only a single Sheriff allowed to testify on any given bill.
Morse’s limitation of citizen testimony was an explicit reason for the recall. The “grounds for recall” states that Morse “has limited public debate in the Senate and thereby minimized the opinions of Colorado citizens but permitted celebrities from other states to express their opinions on Colorado bills.”
Then, Kopel continues, “Morse urged his caucus to stop reading emails, to stop reading letters from constituents, to stop listening to voicemails, to vote for the gun bills and ignore the constituents.”
In one instance, Morse described the “thousands of emails” he was receiving as “toxicity.” He continued:
We get the point that some of these folks think their Second Amendment rights are being abridged. . . . It’s not worth getting into that argument with them, and, so, just move along and don’t read any more of these than you absolutely have to, because it will wear on your psyche.
What’s more, on March 8, as Morse killed his bill regarding gun liability due to lack of votes, Morse insinuated that many rights-respecting gun owners have a “sickness” in their “souls” that must be “cleansed.” He went so far as to lump those lawfully lobbying for gun rights with someone who viciously threatened a state legislator. Although Morse later claimed he was referring only to violence with his “sickness” comments, that did not square with his March 8 remarks, and he never clearly retracted his insinuation.
By showing such contempt for the people he serves in the legislature, Morse strongly motivated those working for the recall, a factor that carried over to the recall of Giron.
2. The Democrats’ gun bills were extremely badly drafted, such that they put peaceable gun owners in legal jeopardy.
As I discuss at length in an earlier article, the Democrats’ legislation on gun magazines contains ambiguous language pertaining to “continuous” possession and to magazines that are “readily convertible” to hold more rounds. As I noted, “the state’s attorney general, John Suthers, had to step in to declare the meaning of the legislation.”
Had the Democrats taken the time to draft carefully worded bills, peaceable gun owners would have had greater confidence that they would not be victimized by overzealous, politically motivated prosecutors looking to nail them over innocent mistakes or differences of legal opinion.
However, if Democrats had taken the time to draft carefully worded bills, the opposition to those bills would have had more time to organize, putting the bills’ passage at risk. Democrats chose speed over legal soundness.
Colorado’s gun owners rightly saw the Democrats as playing political games with their rights and liberties, something that again motivated those working for the recall.
3. Outside influence irritated Colorado voters.
In a move that is to my knowledge unprecedented, Joe Biden, the vice president of the United States, personally called Colorado legislators to cajole them into supporting the bills restricting gun ownership. And New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally called Colorado’s governor, John Hickenlooper, during the debates over the legislation.
Why? The Obama administration, along with Bloomberg’s anti-gun coalition, hoped to use Colorado’s passage of the laws to spearhead a national campaign to pass even more severe gun legislation at the national level.
Then Bloomberg poured $350,000 into Colorado to support Morse and Giron. True, the National Rifle Association helped to finance those working for the recall—but the NRA is in turn financed by a multitude of gun owners in Colorado. (Anyway, as Kopel notes, supporters of Morse and Giron outspent the recallers by a margin of eight to one.)
It’s understandable that Colorado voters disliked the participation of Biden and Bloomberg in Colorado legislation. This, too, motivated those working for recall.
Obviously the Colorado recalls were largely about Democrats’ support for legislation restricting the right to keep and bear arms. But those who limit the discussion to that point fail to draw the broader lessons from the recall.
Author and blogger Ari Armstrong edits the Free Colorado website