To someone living on the coasts, the fight in Colorado over gun control — often called by its repackaged name, “gun violence” — might be hard to understand. Restrictions on gun-magazine capacities and background checks for all gun transfers might sound benign. So how could it lead to the first recall elections in the state’s history?
Colorado has more guns than people. More than 100,000 men and women hold concealed-carry permits, so people here largely know how guns actually work. Consequently, we are less likely to be rattled from the emotional spin of anti-gun hysteria. We know guns that look “mean” aren’t actually military machine guns, that they function like any other semi-automatic gun (pull the trigger once and only one bullet comes out), that the ammunition they use isn’t “high-powered,” and so on.
We also know the pain of mass shootings better than most communities. We suffered and grieved over the Columbine High School shooting more than a decade ago. That horror put us through the emotional “blame the gun” gambit. However, when the grieving was done, and with the wisdom that comes from perspective, we learned that mental health maladies were at the center of the carnage.
So when a horrific shooting took place in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., last year, we were sadly familiar with the emotional process and the anti-gun opportunists who would try to exploit our grief. We were not surprised to learn the accused killer had deep mental health issues.
Reportedly, his problems were so severe that his psychotherapist at the University of Colorado contacted the police to warn them he was a danger to others. That’s where the system broke down. With no criminal record, he passed background checks for gun purchases. This tragedy might have been stopped if we had a system that actually intervenes when experts identify dangerous people like this madman.
Even our Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper used the national airwaves to say the gun wasn’t the issue — the killer’s mental state was. “This is an act of evil. It is somebody who is, who was an aberration of nature. And, you know, if it wasn’t one weapon, it would have been another. I mean, he was diabolical.”
So imagine the shock to Coloradans when some months later, that same governor was pushing gun restrictions on the law-abiding.
Led by officials such as Colorado state Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, the chairman of a key committee, sweeping restrictions on gun owners were passed into law.
Mr. Morse and Ms. Giron now face the first recalls in state history, and may be pulled from office in mere weeks via the true grass-roots efforts of their own constituents.
The new restrictions might not sound like big deal at first blush. They were so poorly written, though, that they could make nearly all magazines, regardless of capacity, illegal. They render gun transfers so onerous that a gun buy-back in Colorado was just canceled because there is no way for the guns turned in to be destroyed.
So ineffective were these bills that in January, the County Sheriffs of Colorado, speaking unanimously as 62 elected sheriffs, came out to strongly oppose them.
Regrettably, Mr. Hickenlooper refused to accept a single phone call from these sheriffs to hear their concerns.
However, as reported by the investigative news site CompleteColorado.com, he had lengthy phone calls with New York’s anti-gun mayor, Michael R. Bloomberg, during the debate. Many legislators received calls from Vice President Joe Biden. At the end of the day, only Democrats voted for the bills.
Mr. Bloomberg’s money and his “consultants” have poured into these recall districts, creating a David versus Goliath battle. Certainly, the recalls in Colorado are about unworkable restrictions on gun owners, but they’re also about who should influence our state government — our own citizens or the rich and powerful from the East.
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute in Denver.