Gun Fight in Colorado: The NRA Rides in, as Children Duck-and-Cover
Last spring, my children – in grades kindergarten through seventh – spent part of their school day hunkered behind a school table while an adult pretending to be an "active shooter" knocked on the door.
I don't know what is more absurd about this scenario: that a particle-board table top would protect my child from automatic gun fire; that an "active shooter" would knock on the door; or that my five-year-old son would now throw around phrases like "active shooter" in normal conversation.
This school activity was, of course, a response to the slaughter of Sandy Hook elementary school kids in Newtown, Connecticut. I also live inColorado – home to the mass shootings at Columbine High School and, more recently, at an Aurora movie theater. The potential for gun violence in seemingly safe places is very real.
But, as usual in America, we prefer to place the burden for our larger-than-life problems on the backs of those with the least power. Think about Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign, based on the idea that we could eradicate the drug problem if only kids just showed a little more willpower against peer pressure. It is also our response to obesity. We lecture children about making wise food choices and getting more exercise, when both of these things are largely out of their control – especially when we have policies that cut school recess and that subsidize food in school lunches that makes kids fat.
And, now, our schools respond to the issue of gun violence – not by asking for better policies that would make schools safer – but by asking kids to crouch down and keep themselves safe. It is, of course, easier to ask schools to practice duck-and-cover drills than it is for elected leaders to enact policies that will surely do more to protect our children than a school table used as a shield.
In Colorado, at least, we are lucky. We have a state legislature that defied prevailing political perception and demonstrated courage in the face of the National Rifle Association (NRA), whose grassroots facade is in reality funded by millions from the gun industry. This summer, with the overwhelming support of most Coloradoans, our state enacted a number of measures – including background checks, high-capacity magazine limits, and restricting domestic violence offenders from purchasing guns – all designed to quell gun violence.
Even with the back of a majority of public support, the legislation was remarkable because gun control laws have long been considered political impossibles in the face of the pervasive big money power of the NRA.
Unfortunately, this kind of political nerve has not been without adverse consequence. My local senator, Angela Giron, and the state senate president, John Morse, are embroiled in ugly recall attempts, as pro-gun advocates attempt to make examples of legislators who mess with the gun rights lobby.
When you combine our state history of Columbine and Aurora with our rural roots and generational hunting traditions, Colorado offers a microcosm through which to view the larger gun control battle. Despite the NRA's ability to shut down federal gun measures, Colorado legislation demonstrates that the gun lobby can be beaten. And asConnecticut Senator Chris Murphy has pointed out after the Sandy Hook shootings, the NRA's invincibility is more mythology than fact. He hashighlighted the fact that 13 out of 16 NRA-funded US Senate candidates lost their races in 2012.
Right now, my own community – a Democratic-leaning labor town that also has a long agricultural history and deep gun ownership roots – has become a hotly-contested battleground in the staging of this national fight. The politically charged local landscape has attracted national money, including funds variously from Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the NRA, and the Koch Brothers.
Direct funding from the gun industry is also entangled in the recall effort: a recent "Farewell to Arms" event raised money for the campaign against Giron and Morse. At the same event, Magpul Industries, a Colorado-based arms manufacturer, which has announced it is relocating to a more gun-friendly state, donated 20,000 high-capacity magazines to gun enthusiasts before the enactment of the new gun laws – essentially flooding Colorado with soon-to-be-illegal magazines to pre-empt the new regulations.
But the tide may be turning. In a revealing example of the NRA's shrinking political cred, the local faces of the recall effort have repeatedly distanced themselves from the NRA and other outside funding – even amid a blizzard of NRA-funded mailers and ads.
The recall results on 10 September will be about more than the electoral fate of these two senators. It will speak to the kind of country we want America to be, and will signal the future political power of the NRA. Do we value the right to have high-capacity magazines more than the rights of children to be safe when they go to school? Will we allow the gun industry undue influence in our democratic process? And will NRA money be defeated in the American west?
I for one am eager to see the ugliness of this fight to leave my usually friendly community. But even more, I hope that we will unite on the side of our children and with our legislators' courageous leadership against corporate bullies.