For Katherine Whitney, a law student on Colorado University’s Boulder campus, it was a tragedy that put her firmly behind today’s recall effort. Not too long before a handful of Democrats introduced a bill to remove all concealed-carry rights from college campuses in the state, Whitney had sat through the murder trial of a fellow college student. “Some guy decided he wanted to kill someone,” she tells me. “One day, he went out ‘hunting,’ and killed the first person he saw — a student here. It was straight-up evil. After the trial was over, I thought, ‘what would I do?’”
Whitney got a concealed-carry license. But when the state legislature started talking about removing her right to carry on campus, Whitney became worried. She went to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Denver and testified. “But before long, I started to feel the effects of Senator Morse’s leadership,” she explains. “He had clearly made his mind up early on, and told others ‘don’t engage.’ I couldn’t get anyone to return my phone calls or e-mails.”
Kimberly Weeks, who also testified in Denver, felt the same way as Whitney. She described the way she was treated by the Senate as “most alarming.” “This isn’t just about rights,” Weeks tells me, “I’m an assault survivor, so protecting myself is extremely important.” Weeks was raped when a stalker who had been looking for her roommate came into her room as she slept. “It was very difficult to talk about,” she remembers. “And I was stunned at the response that I got. Their minds were made up. One senator on the committee didn’t even look at me.”
Distressingly, Weeks’s experience with legislators was similar to that of another rape victim, Amanda Collins. Collins’s testimony was dismissed so callously by Senator Hudak that the exchange made national news. “Actually,” Hudak said, “statistics are not on your side, even if you had a gun.” “Respectfully senator, you weren’t there,” Collins shot back. “Had I been carrying concealed, he wouldn’t have known I had my weapon; and I was there. I know without a doubt in my mind at some point I would’ve been able to stop my attack by using my firearm.”
“This is a women’s issue,” Weeks argues. “We can easily be overpowered by men. Senator Harvey was wonderful and listened to me. Others? They just went through the motions. It felt like some else was pulling the strings.” I ask who. “Morse. And Bloomberg.” Katherine Whitney agrees: “If a woman wants to defend her body, family, or home, that’s her choice,” she says. “Naïvely, I thought that the Democrats, at least on this women’s issue, might come to my side. All I ever hear is the ‘right to choose about my body.’ Well, I choose. I was really surprised.”
“The Democrats are saying that if Morse is recalled, his opponent is going to take away women’s birth control,” Laura Carno, of I Am Created Equal, says. “They’re saying that John Morse is the candidate for women. I disagree.” Indeed. Morse’s attitude comes in for a lot of criticism. “I saw him on MSNBC a few days ago,” Weeks tells me, “and I was shocked at the arrogance he showed. He painted people like me as ‘extreme.’ Why am I outlandish?” “There’s an arrogance with the words and tone he uses,” Carno adds. “He believes he knows better than me how I should live my life. If I want to choose the largest magazine, that’s my choice. It’s not their business how I protect myself.”
Weeks has a radio commercial running in the area. In the spot, which is sponsored by the Colorado Women’s Alliance, she relates her experience dealing with the Senate. “It was very difficult,” she explains, “but I shared the story about the night I was raped. I begged Senator Morse and Senator Giron not to strip me of my right to legally defend myself and my family. I was stunned at the arrogant response we received from Senators Morse and Giron.” In her own TV commercial, Laura Carno strikes a similar note. Looking straight at the camera, Carno defiantly says, “Senator Morse, don’t you dare tell me how to defend myself.”
Katherine Whitney tells me that she has been told by opponents that she should just “buy a can of Mace.” “I’m 5 foot 4!” she exclaims. “That suggestion doesn’t work. I’m just not comfortable with Mace being my last line of defense.” In response to what she regards as a threat to her safety, Whitney has set up her own group, Women for Concealed Carry.
I ask how her advocacy has gone down in Boulder. “The professors in my law school are very respectful. I don’t get support, but there’s no harassment. One professor sometimes asks if I’m carrying, but I won’t tell him. I smile and say, ‘maybe I am, maybe I’m not; how is your wife doing?’”
On the main campus, though, the response has been very difficult. Whitney knew that many of the professors were in favor of the proposed ban. “I got in contact with them so I could better understand their concerns,” she tells me. “I didn’t even want to convince them. I was hopeful that we could resolve this. One professor didn’t even reply to me. Instead, she forwarded to another person on the faculty saying, ‘can you believe this person’s nerve?’ Luckily, I ride motorcycles with that professor and I’ve been for dinner at her house! She hit ‘Reply All’ and invited us both over for dinner.’” The original professor never wrote back.
“The faculty has two reasons for opposing concealed-carry,” Whitney continues. “They think that debates might get heated and one student will reach for his gun and shoot the student with whom they’ve had the disagreement.” “This has never happened,” she adds, drily. “They also think that students who get an F might get frustrated and come in and shoot the teacher in the head.” I suggest that both of these seem ludicrous. Whitney agrees. “I have to tell people on campus that nothing changed when the bill failed,” she explains.
Whitney is part of a growing trend. “I know some of the folks that teach the concealed-carry classes,” Laura Carno tells me. “They say there has been a huge increase in women participating.” Little noted, too, is that the spokesperson for the whole recall is a woman. “I was among the first women to go down to the State Capitol to testify against the gun control bills,” Jennifer Kearns tells me. “I got in under the wire, just before they shut testimony down. Like many women, I was struck by the other women’s testimony, so when I got the call to see if I was interested in coming aboard as the spokeswoman for the effort, there was no hesitation.”
“I have lived here my whole life,” Weeks tells me. “In the last few years, I have watched the state really change. But they can’t ignore us.”
“After all, We the People are the ones who are forced the live with their out of touch legislation.”