Colorado Gun Restrictionists
The campaign to recall two Democratic state senators appeals to some surprising demographics.

Colorado state senate president John Morse


Charles C. W. Cooke

After the general election of 2012 sent Democratic majorities to both houses of the state legislature for the first time in a generation, politics in Colorado took a dramatically leftward turn. Before November of last year, Governor John Hickenlooper felt obligated to promise that he would sign no new anti-gun legislation, holding to his word even in the heated aftermath of a horrific shooting that was perpetrated in his own state; after November, Hickenlooper cheerfully signed a package of strict anti-gun bills in response to a shooting 1,800 miles away. Thus did Colorado come to require state background checks for all private sales, to ban concealed-carry on college campuses, and — worst of all — to limit the size of legal magazines to 15 rounds. And so must we mention Colorado in the same breath as Connecticut, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, and California, all of which have passed severe anti-gun measures since the beginning of the year.

Yet all is not lost in the Centennial State. On September 10, Colorado will hold the first recall election in its 137-year history. If successful, two state senators who voted for the package will be removed from office and a strong message will have been sent: Leave us alone!

Earlier in the year, before the debate was even over, a group calling itself the Basic Freedom Defense Fund began to circulate petitions to recall senate president John Morse. By June 3, the BFDF had won enough signatures to become certified as the official proponent. Meanwhile, a second group, Pueblo Freedom and Rights, targeted their local senator, Angela Giron. By June 10, PFR, too, had attracted enough signatures to trigger a recall. Pooling resources, the two groups have now joined forces, convincing the state to set their efforts within the same legal framework and to hold the elections on the same day. In the meantime, the Huffington Post recorded last month, 32,000 citizens of Colorado have applied for concealed-carry permits. In the whole of last year, only 17,000 requests were processed.

“Something happened here,” Jennifer Kerns, who represents both groups, tells me. “The government overreached — a little like with this IRS or NSA situation.”

“There are Democratic majorities in both houses for the first time in a long time,” she continued, and they’re entertaining “the most radical legislative agenda in Colorado’s history.” It is an agenda that Colorado voters did not know they were getting, and appear not to want. In July, Scott Bland of National Journal reported that Hickenlooper’s approval rating had dropped 16 points since last December. It’s “no stretch,” Bland contended, “to draw a line between Hickenlooper’s declining popularity and recent items on his agenda.” The legislature is faring little better. The polling firm Ciruli Associates recently revealed that there was “a full-scale revolt going on right now in Colorado,” while the Washington Times noted that “voters appear to be having a case of buyers’ remorse.”

A quick review of his campaign website reveals that senate majority leader Morse did not mention gun control even once while running last November. Instead, his pitch was full of promises about jobs, the economy, and health care. Nevertheless, Kerns says, once in office, Morse quickly “turned to guns and forced that agenda” anyway. “This goes beyond gun control and into the realm of accountability,” she claims. “It wasn’t just the laws, but the way they passed them.”