The power of Second Amendment advocacy ricocheted across Colorado this week with the recall of two state legislators who had pushed for tighter gun control.
State Senate President John Morse and state Sen. Angela Giron, both Democrats, were defeated in special elections, and both will be replaced by Republicans on the pro-gun side of the political ledger.
In the wake of the mass shooting at a suburban Denver theater last year, the Colorado state legislature passed stiffer gun control measures, including expanded background checks for gun buyers and limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. Both ousted senators had supported that legislation.
Senator Morse's recall election was close, 51-49 percent, while Senator Giron was recalled by a margin of 56-44 percent. In both cases, Republicans won 100 percent of the vote to determine who would replace the ousted senators.
Gun rights supporters see the votes as a clear warning to any other politician who wants to keep his or her job. In a statement, the Colorado Republican Party called the results "a loud and clear message to out-of-touch Democrats across the nation."
Like a lot of other Democrats, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wants to move on as quickly as possible to other issues. In a statement, he said he was "disappointed by the outcome of the recall elections," calling on voters to "refocus again on what unites Coloradans – creating jobs, educating our children, creating a healthier state – and on finding ways to keep Colorado moving forward."
The recall vote may not bode well for his political future.
“Gov. John Hickenlooper – once deemed so unbeatable that the GOP couldn't even find a candidate to run against him in 2014 – now faces falling approval ratings and a crowded field of Republican contenders, in part for backing stricter gun measures,” the Denver Post reported Tuesday as the results of the recall vote became clear.
A Quinnipiac poll last month had the governor on the losing side – 45-47 percent – of a question about whether he deserves reelection next year, with an overall 48 percent approval rating the polling organization called “lackluster.” One major reason likely was his stance on gun issues, with most Coloradans disapproving 52-35 percent.
National organizations on both sides of the issue had poured resources into the recall vote, including the National Rifle Association (NRA) and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who founded Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Most of the outside money came from Mayor Bloomberg and others on the pro-gun-control, anti-recall side. But that may have backfired to some extent.
"The people of Colorado Springs sent a clear message to the Senate leader that his primary job was to defend their rights and freedoms and that he is ultimately accountable to them – his constituents, and not to the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun billionaires," the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action said in a statement.
Tuesday's vote also exposed divisions between Colorado's growing urban and suburban areas and its rural towns. Dozens of elected county sheriffs have sued to block the gun laws and some activists are promoting a largely symbolic measure to secede from the state.
Morse recall organizer Timothy Knight said voters were upset that Colorado's Democrat-majority Legislature seemed more inclined to take its cues from the White House than its constituents. The gun laws passed this year with no Republican support.
Still, Democrats remain the majority in the Colorado Legislature, Democrat Hickenlooper is still the governor, and the new gun laws on background checks and ammunition magazines remain in effect.
“This election does not reflect the will of Coloradans, a majority of whom strongly support background checks and opposed these recalls,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “It was a reflection of a very small, carefully selected population of voters’ views on the legislature’s overall agenda this session.”
But it was clear from the results that advocating stronger gun control measures can be risky for those holding elective office, despite a spate of gun massacres around the country in recent years.
If he had any regrets, Mr. Morse didn’t indicate that as the vote results made clear that he was out of a job.
"I said at the time if it costs me my political career, so be it," Morse told Reuters shortly after conceding Tuesday night. "That's nothing compared to what the families of [gun violence] victims go through every single day. We did the right thing."
• This report includes material from the Associated Press.