Colorado Recall Elections Chill Push for New Gun Laws

Recalls of legislators create another setback for gun control backers.

ByABC News
September 11, 2013, 3:33 PM

Sept. 11, 2013 — -- This time was supposed to be different.

After Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, gun-control advocates saw their best chance in a generation to tighten the nation's gun laws. That's how the argument went, at least.

But election results Tuesday in Colorado may serve as stark reminders of the continued power of the gun lobby. Two Democratic state senators lost their jobs because of new gun laws they helped pass, in races that played out as testing grounds for national messaging on both sides of the debate.

In a state that's trending Democratic and has seen terrible gun violence firsthand, money flowed in on both sides over the seats of two obscure state lawmakers. The results directly undermine hopes that new gun restrictions can be political winners, and are likely to further sap what momentum was left for tighter federal gun laws at the congressional level.

"Obviously, this is not going to be helpful," said Matt Bennett, a vice president at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, which has been working closely with the White House and key senators on federal gun-control efforts. "The NRA picked their spots carefully, and they went after them hard. There's always setbacks in the gun debate -- always."

The effort to recall Colorado Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron was designed to send a message that would be heard far beyond the Rockies. Gun-rights groups originally sought to recall five Democrats from office -- enough to flip the majority to Republicans -- but would up getting enough signatures only to target the two who were recalled Tuesday.

Both lawmakers had supported a package of new gun restrictions that, among other things, expanded background checks into private sales and banned the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 15 rounds.

The laws were part of a flurry of post-Sandy Hook, state-level action that saw tighter restrictions in states including Connecticut, Maryland, New York and Colorado.

Winning passage in Colorado was a signature achievement, given the gun culture of the West. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, abandoned previous skepticism over new gun laws to sign the measures.

With the battle joined, national money flowed in, including $360,000 from the National Rifle Association and additional backing from the Koch brothers' Americans for Prosperity.

Liberal groups rallied to the senators' defense, with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz calling it the "worst election you've never heard of."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg personally cut a $350,000 check. Bloomberg and his group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, wanted to send a message that backing new gun laws isn't dangerous to political survival.

Giron, one of the ousted lawmakers, told The New Republic in August, "For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up."