Where Colorado Can Go From Here
(October 1, 2013)
This is the final installment of a seven-part blogumentary covering the recent passage of new gun control laws in Colorado and the historic first-ever recall elections of two state senators for their gun votes. The purpose of this series is to chronicle the legislative process, what led to an outright rebellion against the new gun laws and why Colorado is a tough state to turn reliably Democrat blue or Republican red. Importantly, hope is offered on how those concerned with reducing gun violence on both sides of the gun issue can come together to make a real and lasting difference.
There is Hope
In the first six parts of this blogumentary, we chronicled the story of gun control in Colorado from the halls of Columbine High School to the 2013 legislative session and then to the stopping of Colorado’s next potential mass shooter. We have covered a lot of ground, but there is still more to go.
Despite the recalls of two state senators, the struggle between gun control advocates and gun rights supporters is far from over. Passions run deep on both sides, because both sides genuinely believe they are right, and the stakes are high. Lives actually do hang in the balance. This goal is a worthy one to be passionate about, so long as we do not let our emotions overwhelm our sense of unity.
There is no better place to start the national conversation on guns in America than Colorado. The unique political composition of our electorate makes our state the best place to have this debate. The good news is that advocates for both gun control and run rights claim they have a common objective – to reduce gun violence and prevent the next mass shooting.
In this last installment of Shooting Down Gun Control in Colorado, we explain some of the factors that require lawmakers, citizens and law enforcement to take a pragmatic, non-ideological approach to gun violence and mass shootings. If we are to make progress, we have to accept good ideas wherever they come from.
Colorado’s Independent Streak
Colorado’s electorate has some important characteristics that give partisan extremists trouble in turning the state definitively Democrat blue or Republican red. Some political commentators have described Colorado as “purple” or a mix between the colors of the two parties.
The facts on the ground, however, challenge the notion of Colorado being a “purple” state. The most popular political affiliation in the state is “Unaffiliated” or no party at all. Nearly 38% of Colorado voters have registered as “Unaffiliated”, meaning that the majority of the state’s registered voters have chosen to opt-out of the two-party duopoly that has turned politics in America into a most divisive enterprise. Consequently, Colorado may be a much lighter shade of purple than originally contemplated by commentators and pundits.
However, while voters are running away from organized political parties, the party faithful in both the Demorat and Republican parties are running away from the political center to the extremes. A poll run by long-time Colorado political pollster Floyd Ciruli illustrates this development. On his blog, Ciruli wrote:
“Both Colorado political parties are dominated by their most ideologically intense members, producing the dramatic legislative swings from the Republican House in 2012 to the Democratic House in 2013.”
Ciruli makes a cutting insight into the divisiveness of Colorado’s politics with this comment from his blog:
“Democrats effectively used the slogan in the early 2000s that Republicans were only interested in guns, God and gays while the economy languished and problems piled up. Today, are Democrats vulnerable to a similar charge; that is, are they mostly focused on guns, gays and more government?”
What extremists in both parties can not seem to come to grips with is that the most popular political party in Colorado is none at all. No candidate from either of the two major parties can win a statewide race without the support of Colorado’s independent voters.
The political physics in Colorado are such that any partisan, ideological legislative action will create an opposite and equal electoral reaction. Meaning, that hyper-partisan legislative agendas are likely to swing the pendulum to the other side of the political spectrum in the next election.
Consequently, the recalls of Colorado Democrat senators Angela Giron and John Morse do not necessarily mean that the state has shifted to right. It merely means that Colorado’s independent voters along with gun rights advocates are likely to push back on the new gun laws in the 2014 elections by leaning towards Republican candidates. Partisans always like to believe that they lost because they weren’t progressive (Democrats) or conservative (Republican) enough, but in Colorado, tacking to the extremes is a loser in the long run.
Individual Rights Trump Ideology
The successful recalls of Morse and Giron have some profound lessons for candidates in the 2014 elections.
Initially, Democrats and recall opponents did not know how tough of a challenge the Pueblo Plumbers and Tim Knight had handed to them. When it became clear they had a problem, recall opponents played every wedge issue card in their political deck:
- The race card (don’t let them recall Latina Angela Giron!).
- The fiscal responsibility card (these recalls are a waste of taxpayer money).
- The Constitution card (recalls should only be used for corruption, not policy differences). Read the Colorado Constitution, it is very clear about what recalls are for.
- The war on women card (the Republican candidates will take away your right to choose and are against “women’s health”).
- The save the children card (Second Amendment supporters care more about magazines than murdered children).
- The mass shooter card (“High-Capacity Magazines are intended for one purpose – to kill a lot of people quickly” -thanks to @CoSenDem).
- The anti-Semitism card (recall opponents derided an ad illustrating Mayor Bloomberg as a puppet-master pulling the strings of Giron and Morse). Two former Colorado lawmakers who are Jewish said they did not consider the ad to be anti-Semite.
- The gun safety card (these laws aren’t about gun control, they are about “gun safety”).
- The common-sense card (these “common-sense” laws aren’t taking away guns from hunters, and hunting is a tradition in the West).
Voters have have caught on to politicians invoking the memes of “common-sense” and doing things for “the children” as red herrings. Lawmakers would do well to steer clear of them and use plain talk to explain their positions.
Although every one of these hot-button extremist cards was played, none of them made the difference in the recalls. That is because gun control advocates are primarily Democrats from the progressive wing of the party (although increasingly the progressive wing is the only wing of the Democrat Party, if we believe Ciruli’s poll results). They projected their own political sensibilities and stereotypes onto the rest of Colorado’s more diverse electorate.
Diverse constituencies came together in the recalls to reject what they perceived to be an unwarranted attack on the Second Amendment and individual rights. Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Christians, Jews, gay, straight, men and women all are gun owners and the constituents of Angela Giron and John Morse did not appreciate their elected representatives imposing the minority views of liberal, progressive Demorats on them.
Colorado’s Independent Women
Core to Colorado’s unique electoral composition are the state’s independent women. Urban liberal women assumed that women in the suburbs and southern Colorado thought just like they do, but they were mistaken.
In The Federalist blog, Mollie Z. Hemingway described why the “War on Women” theme failed to help Giron and Morse as recall opponents intended. A national poll by NBC/Wall Street Journal showed that 65% of women favored stronger gun laws, as compared to 44% of men.
But, nationwide polls are not representative of the sensibilities of Colorado voters. For example, as Hemingway points out, a Quinnipac Poll of Colorado voters from August showed that women in the state favored stricter gun laws, but only by a 48% to 45% margin, much tighter than what the nationwide polls would suggest. Apparently, that percentage was even less favorable in SD3 (Giron’s district) and SD11 (Morse’s district).
Why? A lot of Colorado women like to shoot guns. Gun stores and shooting ranges market to women and it is common for ranges to offer special classes for women, which are well attended. As Hemingway wrote:
“In other words, in Colorado, while gun control isn’t necessarily a women’s issue, gun rights is a women’s issue.”
Politicians Ignore Independents at Their Peril (Bill Clinton Still Has It)
Democrat lawmakers ignored the advice of former president Bill Clinton when he warned fellow Democrats:
“Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them.”
Say what you will about Bill, he is still America’s most astute political observer and effective public speaker. And, to their credit, a few Democrats from Colorado’s rural districts voted against their party, apparently in deference to the wishes of their constituents.
John Morse, Angela Giron and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and Congressional Representative from Florida) have offered their own excuses for the recalls. We pointed out in Part 5 that if they are seeking to assign blame, they should look in the mirror. Perhaps Al Maurer summarized the reasons for the Democrats’ ouster in a Washington Times Communities blog when he wrote, “The real answer strikes fear into the hearts of establishment politicians of both parties.” Maurer continued:
“Yet it was more than the policies themselves: it was the way they were rammed home. Sweeping bills drafted by special interests in secret, then rushed through the legislature in minimum time with virtually no debate and no amendments allowed. Not only were the people shut out of the process, so were sheriffs, Republican legislators and anyone, subject matter expert or not, who opposed John Morse’s radical left-wing agenda.”
In the wake of the recalls, former governor and Democrat Bill Ritter said:
“The Democratic Party cannot be the party of metro Denver and Boulder. It has to be the party who understands the values, views and aspirations of people who live outside of those areas.”
For now, Colorado progressive Democrats and Mayor Bloomberg can crow that despite the successful first-ever recalls of two of their own, the new gun laws are on still on the books. In private, however, Democrats are worried that they have pushed an aggressive partisan agenda too far. As time goes by, the magazine ban loses popularity and the efforts of rural counties to secede from the state and form North Colorado, America’s 51st state, move to a vote in November.
In fact, there has been some discussion in political circles that a full repeal of the magazine ban is in the works to avoid the worst of what is increasingly shaping up to be a rout of Democrats in 2014.
As a result of failing to restrain the worst of a hyper-partisan legislative session driven by urban liberals, Governor Hickenlooper’s popularity is waning. Hickenlooper was elected after securing only 51% of the vote in 2012 in a three-way race in which the Republican candidate imploded and opened the door for third-party challenger and former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo that split the conservative vote and handed Hickenlooper a victory. Before signing the gun bills that he acknowledged would not have prevented the Aurora massacre, the former geologist, brew pub owner and Mayor of Denver was seen as a likeable moderate friendly to business.
Today, Hickenlooper looks like the leader of the ultra-left urban progressives, which leaves him exceedingly vulnerable with Independents unhappy with the governor’s new partisan bent. As a result, Republicans, including Tancredo, are lining up to challenge the governor in 2014. If Republicans, however, continue their political incompetence when it comes to candidate selection and maintaining party unity, it is likely Hickenlooper could be reelected.
The message of the recalls for Mayor Bloomberg, Joe Biden and other progressive elites trying to use our state as a test bed for pushing gun control is simple — “Stay out of Colorado. We can handle our own problems, thank you very much.”
Why Government-Mandated Gun Control Is Not the Answer for Colorado
The problem for gun control advocates is that they are relying on the agency of government to impose their will. At a time when trust in nearly all institutions is at an all-time low, gun controllers have chosen to push for more stringent laws that will be enforced by the agencies Americans are increasingly viewing as a threat to their freedoms.
The slow, but steady acidic drip of corruption over decades has eaten away the foundations of trust between the people and their government. Financial scandals and fraud on Wall Street, at the IRS, NSA, Benghazi, Fast and Furious, nonexistent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, Iran-Contra, Watergate, big money center banks laundering money for terrorists, supporting a corrupt drug-dealing government in Afghanistan, drone strikes on American citizens without due process and a dead-locked Congress have all accumulated to the extent that Americans today place very little trust in government.
Not to mention the broken social contract between business and labor in America, resulting in 20+ year slide in real wages. The American worker is over twenty times more productive than he or she was just over two decades ago, but is not making twenty times more money. The benefits of globalization have accrued to the top 1% of the 1% and the political class who helped enable it. The person who has paid the bill has been the American worker, upward mobility and the ability for ordinary people to become self-sufficient.
The piling-up of political scandals and the devastating impact of economic globalization on the American middle class makes it very difficult for gun control advocates to make the case that government is a fair dealer and worthy of the trust that would be required for more stringent gun control and infringing the Second Amendment.
In Part 6, we reviewed the data on gun violence and the profile of mass shooters. If the evidence does not support the efficacy of gun control efforts like installing a new ban on so-called “assault weapons” or “high capacity” magazines, then tens of millions of responsible gun owners and Sheriffs alike wonder why Democrat lawmakers continue to push for laws that have already been proved ineffective? The conclusion that many come to is that “gun control” is very much about “control,” and has very little to do with “guns.”
Gun control advocates will tell us that the “gun lobby”, their red herring for describing the millions of gun owners and their families, is a vocal and motivated minority. This meme, however, only works when preaching to the gun control choir. When gun owners hear gun control advocates and politicians complain about the “gun lobby” or the National Rifle Association, they assume they are talking about them, not some faceless corporation. In fact, recent polls suggest that it is the gun control lobby who are in the minority. In a recent Rasmussen Reports poll, only 33% of Americans believe that stricter gun laws would have prevented the Navy Yard shooting.
No Limits Means No Trust
Making the gun control case even more of an uphill battle in Colorado is as mentioned in Part 2 of this blogumentary, those seeking more stringent gun laws offer no limiting principle to their never-ending quest for more restrictions on guns.
Gun ownership is a strict Constitutional right guaranteed by the Second Amendment and is not a privilege, like driving a car. The Supreme Court has already ruled that gun ownership is an individual right in order to form a militia, and not a collective right to form a government-sponsored military force. Because of the nature of the Second Amendment, restrictions on guns must necessarily pass a higher standard at the Supreme Court.
When asked when enough is enough, gun control advocates either maintain silence or offer an impossible standard, such as “when gun violence is zero” or an emotion-based standard that can never be achieved like “when no child goes to school afraid of being shot.” The only limiting principle articulated by gun controllers is one that not even they can meet with more laws.
If gun control advocates cannot restrain themselves, then they will turn into the very tyrants the Second Amendment was designed to protect against. Relying on government, one of our least trusted institutions, to control the instruments that would prevent the worst of what a potential tyrant might do is an irony that is lost on gun control advocates blinded by emotion, albeit well intended.
America is different than the rest of the world, and the Second Amendment is one reason for it. America’s Founding Fathers knew that times would change and they provided people the ability to change their minds when they built flexibility into the Constitution. The supreme law of the land has been amended 27 times, and it can be amended again. If gun control advocates believe the nation has changed its mind on what the Second Amendment means, despite what the Supreme Court says, then their remedy is to pursue a Constitutional Convention. In the wake of the Colorado recalls, I suspect they know that a repeal or substantial rewrite of the Second Amendment will be an unpopular proposition.
Colorado Can be The Role Model
As I bring this blogumentary to a close, I want to leave readers with hope.
Colorado has been the place of two terrible mass shootings, which is why we need to have this conversation here. Our unique electoral composition with Independents making up the largest block of voters in the state means that for any solution to work and remain durable, it cannot be based on partisan ideology.
The people of Colorado have an opportunity to be a national role model, not for new gun laws, but for taking pragmatic measures based on data, science and a financial commitment to get our mentally ill citizens the treatment they need andto keep firearms out of their possession.
The gun rights community is standing with an extended hand reaching out to anyone willing to address the core issue with gun violence. For all of our sakes, we hope more Coloradans join us in this effort.