Upcoming Votes in Colorado and Missouri Will Test Power of Gun Nuts

Human Rights

The vindictiveness and paranoia of America’s gun lobby will be vividly displayed in coming days in countdowns to key votes in Colorado and Missouri, where the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups are bent on taking revenge in response to the White House’s push for new gun controls after last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

In Colorado, the NRA has been leading a recall campaign against Sen. President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron, both of whom supported one of the few legislative packages of new gun controls imposed after the Newtown massacre. The recall elections, to be held September 10, are the first in the state’s history for legislators.

In July, two gun-control bills—expanding gun buyer background checks and banning the sale of high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds —went into effect. Morse and Giron were two of 18 senators to vote in favor of banning magazines and two of 19 to vote in favor of background checks. Pro-gun groups wanted to recall four legislators, but could not gather enough signatures this spring.

Morse, an ex-police chief and Democrat whose district includs parts of Colorado Springs, has been campaigning on his overall record. Then interviewed by the Denver Post, he passionately defended the new gun laws. “We did the right thing,” he said. “If making Colorado safer might cost me my political career, then so be it. I’ve seen people killed and lay there bleeding in the street. ... What we did will help.”

The NRA has been promoting the recall efforts, including trying to help local pro-gun organizers raise money for TV ads that try to smear Morse as an unethical legislator, even though, as Media Matters reports, the complaints were investigated and dismissed as baseless years ago. Like Morse, Sen. Giron, another Democrat whose district includes Pueblo, has also been attacted by pro-gun groups for trumped-up ethics complaint that similarly were dismissed by investigating state officials as groundless.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action has spent $108,667 to defeat the lawmakers through mailers, radio advertisements and billboards, the Huffington Post reported. The largest donations from outside Colorado supporting the legislators was $350,000 from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of stricter gun controls.

The recall races have drawn the attention of other right-wingers, notably Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the energy billionaire Koch family. The group paid for door hangers comparing Morse to Bloomberg on other issues, Huffington Post reported, such as taxes and health care. AFP's flyers take advantage of a loophole in Colorado’s disclosure laws that allows so-called “issue advocacy” activities to go unreported.

Missouri’s “Firearms Freedom” Act

After President Obama called for new gun control legislation following last December’s Sandy Hook shootings, pro-gun groups have been pushing legislators in red states to adopt so-called “firearms freedom” bills, which declare that their state does not have to follow federal gun laws because Congress does not have authority to regulate guns. The so-called rightwing “nullification” movement looks to pre-Civil War America, when southern states protested national legislation and tried, but failed, to overturn laws.

Montana was first to adopt a so-called gun “nullification” law in 2009, which was thrown out this August by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals—but is likely to be appealed. Eight other states have passed similar laws—Alaska, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, South Dakota, Kansas and Tennessee. But Missouri Republicans went the furthest by creating legal penalities for federal firearms agents operating in their state, barring state officials from cooperating with federal firearms agencies, and imposing restrictions on the media covering guns. The other “firearms freedom” bills didn’t actively interfer with federal enforcement activities.  

Missouri’s bill was passed this spring by its Legislature but vetoed in July by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat and former state sttorney general. His veto message said the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause gave Congress power to regulate commerce in states, including guns. He went further, saying, “There is no shortage of unacceptable scenarios that could result from this provision… presumably, a reporter could not even attach her name to a story if she is herself a gun owner.”           

But on Sept. 11, Missouri’s Legislature, where both chambers have GOP majorities, will vote to override Nixon’s veto. All but one Republican voted for the law earlier this year. That standout, Rep. Jay Barnes, told The New York Times, “Our Constitution is not some cheap Chinese buffet where we get to pick the parts we like and ignore the rest.”

But when it comes to America’s gun culture, no steps are too vindictive, too paranoid or too extreme.

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