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US recalls show risk of supporting gun control

September 11, 2013

DENVER (AP) — The removal of two Colorado state senators who voted for tighter gun control serves as an example of what can happen to lawmakers who support gun restrictions, even in a state that has suffered two of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

The well-organized activists who sought to recall Colorado Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron got the backing of gun-rights groups such as the pro-gun National Rifle Association. It turned out they didn’t need much assistance because voters were already so incensed by passage of the gun-control package.

The effect of the recalls on other states isn’t yet clear. Only 10 other states allow state lawmakers to be recalled for any reason, but social media and email lists have made it easier to build support among angry voters.

Democrats, who maintain control of the Legislature in Colorado — where 12 students and one teacher were killed in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and where 12 people were killed in the 2012 shooting at an Aurora movie theater — said the recall was purely symbolic.

But they could be a sign of things to come in 2014, both in Colorado’s governor’s race and in scores of other political contests around the country.

After last year’s mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Colorado was the only state beyond Democratic strongholds New York, California and Connecticut to pass gun-control legislation. Gun-control measures died in Congress, as well as Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Delaware.

Despite being outspent by about 5-to-1, recall supporters cited a big anti-recall donation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make one of their main points — that Democrats controlling the state Legislature were more interested in listening to the White House and outside interests than their own constituents.

Political analyst Floyd Ciruli said voters seem to have been upset about what they saw as government overreach not just on guns but on other parts of the Democratic agenda. Polling showed individual gun laws, such as limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, had some support, but the size and speed of the gun package and other Democratic bills may contributed to the senators’ fate, he said.

About 40 percent of voters turned out in Pueblo, an impressive figure given that there were no mail ballots.

Bloomberg downplayed the vote as a low-turnout, off-year election and said the NRA would not go unchallenged in future recalls.

“We’re committed to backing elected officials across the country who are willing to face these attacks because they agree with Americans about the need for better background checks,” he said in a statement.

Republicans hope to build on their victories next year, when Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper will be up for re-election. The governor initially shied away from pushing for gun-control measures after the Aurora theater shooting, which happened in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign. But he later reversed course just before the Newtown massacre.

A poll last month by Quinnipiac University showed that Hickenlooper’s position on guns and his decision to halt the execution of a death row inmate were unpopular with voters.

Christian Sinderman, a political consultant for that initiative, said a state recall election cannot be construed as a national referendum.

“If anything, the Colorado experience tells us we’re doing the right thing to seek a popular vote,” Sinderman said.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the recall effort in Colorado was an anomaly, but activists must be aware of the risk that lawmakers may be spooked by the results and shy away from supporting gun legislation.

Gross said he is not expecting recall efforts elsewhere and that advocates continue to seek support in Congress for a national bill on background checks.

Sinderman said gun-control proponents are sensitive to the power of the NRA and its ability to target districts.

“The unfortunate reality of the Colorado experience is that the NRA bullying tactics can still work,” he said.

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Associated Press Writers Colleen Slevin in Denver and Mike Baker in Seattle contributed to this report.

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