A Famous Victory in Colorado
A grassroots effort delivered an unprecedented blow to gun-control advocates.


Charles C. W. Cooke

“We’ve gained notoriety and caused much anxiety,” sang Tom Lehrer in “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” “They call it impiety, and lack of propriety, and quite a variety of unpleasant names.” So too maligned were the parade of little groups that sprung up to fight the government. Women who testified — some of them, like Kimberly Weeks and Amanda Collins, victims of rape — were cruelly rebuffed; genuine advocates, like the six men who founded the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, were dismissed erroneously as “AstroTurf”; and the plucky little guerrilla group, Pueblo Freedom and Rights, which was started by three formerly apolitical blue-collar twentysomethings, was described variously, its founder, Victor Head told me, as being made up of  “peons” and “nuts,” and guilty of representing “amateur hour.”

Nevertheless, by the end of the process, so anxious were the opponents of the recall that they felt compelled to rely heavily on Michael Bloomberg, who sent $350,000 to Colorado to fight the threat; members of Obama’s ground team were brought in to boost turnout, and even former president Bill Clinton was wheeled in at the last minute to try to tip the scales.

None of it worked. This was the recall that never supposed to happen — let alone be successful. The nine men who set the ball rolling weren’t supposed to be capable of organizing a town hall, let alone taking down the state-senate president. And yet they did it. Victor Head, a plumber who had never been politically active, took down a senator in a district that went Democratic in 2012 by ten points; a group of six concerned men from the chat room removed the state’s top-ranking legislator. “We are a quiet people,” recall founder Tim Knight told his victorious friends when the results became known at the Stargazers Theater. “You may be tempted to ignore us. Clearly, that would be a mistake.”

Critics of what is colloquially described as the “gun lobby” have imagined a bogeyman that doesn’t exist, imputed false motives to earnest forces, and worried about the influence of outside money that was more than outmatched by opponents. Many were the headlines that set up yesterday’s vote as a “test of the strength of the NRA.” But the truth remains that the power that the defenders of the Second Amendment enjoy lies in the appeal of the Second Amendment itself — and, too, in that peculiar American genius for liberty and democracy. “Join or Die” says the famous flag. Here, enough people did to make a difference. The cheers that erupted around the theatre when Morse and Giron conceded were, as much as anything, cheers of relief. “People keep saying to me that it doesn’t matter if we lose,” one woman told me. “But I’ve lost my husband for the last two months. It matters!”

“Amateur hour?” Perhaps. But, as is proper in a republic, the amateurs were victorious.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.