On Gun Reform, Colorado Shows This Time Might Be Different

It actually happened.

Despite a democratic shift in recent years, Colorado is neither California nor Massachusetts – its reputation as a “purple” state is well deserved, and its politics are still heavily influenced by the deep red, gun-friendly ranch communities that cover much of its land area. The western half of the state is now represented by Lauren Boebert, a restaurant owner whose open-carry policy was a large part of her political appeal. Democrats currently control both chambers of the state parliament, but not with overwhelming leeway, and progressive ideas do not automatically become law.

Although then-Colorado governor John Hickenlooper was not originally an avid supporter of gun reform, he advocated some gun control measures, including universal background checks and limited magazine sizes. Shortly after Hickenlooper expressed support for these measures, Adam Lanza murdered 27 children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. The combination of these two shootings gave Hickenlooper and Colorado’s other gun control supporters a boost. The two measures were passed by party line votes by the democratically controlled statehouse, and Hickenlooper signed them on March 20, 2013.

While the Democrats overwhelmingly supported these Colorado measures, there were concerns at the time that they would pay a political price for their implementation. Indeed, Democrats’ fears that they will suffer at the ballot box have been a major drag on arms reform efforts across the country for at least two decades. Democrats generally fear that the National Rifle Association and other gun ownership advocacy groups have significant resources in terms of money and volunteers to help them step down, and that most of the other voters who are generally in favor of gun control , not following the topic long enough or closely enough to fight back.

But in Colorado it wasn’t such an open case. Yes, some Democrats paid a price; Senators John Morse and Angela Giron were campaigned back in their districts to punish them for their gun votes.

Hickenlooper, concerned that he would pay a price too, was nonetheless elected for a second four-year term in 2014, beating his Republican opponent by three points in a year that saw several other Democratic officials lose their seats. He has served his tenure – and especially when he ran for the US Senate last year, he won with almost ten points and prevailed against the incumbent in charge of the NRA, Cory Gardner.

Meanwhile, gun control advocates were making their own strides and battling challenges. Tom Sullivan, whose son Alex was murdered at the Aurora Cinema in 2012, ran for the Colorado Statehouse in 2018, removing a Republican by eight points. Sullivan supported a “red flag” gun violence prevention act in the State House and was threatened with a recall in response. However, the recall did not get enough signatures and Sullivan easily won re-election last year.

How could this affect national politics? The political scene in 2021 is a little different from the Trump years or the Obama years. Like then Governor Hickenlooper, President Biden is a pragmatic moderator who knows how to work with a legislature. He can also read his party’s caucus and know when a problem has arisen. Democrats in Congress have narrow majorities and a shown interest in using them while they still have them. And while gun attorneys remain passionate and dedicated, it is certainly no small matter that the National Rifle Association is bankrupt.

None of this means that gun control is safe at the federal level. The passage of a democratic law ultimately relies on the support of Senate moderates like Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ), whose voters are hardly enthusiastic about gun control. But as recent Colorado history shows, it is at least possible to fight back against the gun lobby and survive.

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