The Colorado recalls dealt a serious blow to gun-control advocates. Here’s why.

September 11, 2013

Something pretty remarkable happened in Colorado on Tuesday night. John Morse, the Democratic president of the state Senate, was recalled from office. So was Democratic state Sen. Angela Giron.

Taken together, the losses arguably represent the biggest defeat for gun-control advocates since the push for expanded background checks failed in the U.S. Senate earlier this year.

Morse and Giron appeared on ballots Tuesday in the culmination of a recall campaign that largely shaped up as a referendum on the state's recently passed gun-control laws, for which both Morse and Giron voted. Out of state money poured in on both sides. On one end, the National Rifle Association dished out six figures. On the other, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg did too.

It's not every day that you see an incumbent recalled from office, let alone someone as high-profile as a state Senate president. The message the defeat of Morse and Giron sends to legislators all across the country is unmistakable: If you are thinking about pushing for new gun-control laws, you could face swift consequences.

"You could almost call it the bellwether state as far as what’s going to happen down the road as far as gun-control and Second Amendment rights," Republican George Rivera, who will fill Giron's seat, told The Fix late last month.

The particulars of Tuesday's elections prompted some gun-control advocates to argue that the results shouldn't be over-read. For one thing, voters didn't receive mail ballots automatically, a substantial change of protocol in a state where the majority of voters cast their votes via mail. For another, the losses don't mean Republicans will control the Senate; nor do they mean the gun laws that Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed into law will be repealed.

"This election does not reflect the will of Coloradans, a majority of whom strongly support background checks and opposed these recalls," said Bloomberg in a statement distributed by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group he co-founded. "It was a reflection of a very small, carefully selected population of voters’ views on the legislature’s overall agenda this session."

But it shouldn't go overlooked that registered Democrats outnumber Republicans in the two districts where voters cast ballots (though Morse's district is more of a swing district than Giron's more Democratic-leaning territory). And the anti-recall side easily outraised the pro-recall interests. The Democratic losses are a reflection of the fact that enthusiasm was squarely on the opposite side of Morse and Giron.

"The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) is proud to have stood with the men and women in Colorado who sent a clear message that their Second Amendment rights are not for sale," the NRA's political arm said in a statement.

While the long-term significance of the election will assuredly be be debated, it's hard to argue against the proposition that lawmakers in other states will have Colorado somewhere in their minds the next time a push to tighten gun laws begins ramping up.

In the larger debate over gun laws, Tuesday was another victory for the NRA and its allies, who earlier this year demonstrated the power they wield in the campaign to prevent the passage of tighter gun restrictions in Congress.

Two Colorado state legislators lost on Tuesday and two Republicans won the chance to replace them. But make no mistake, the effects could be felt well beyond the borders of the Centennial State.

Fixbits: 

In his prime-time address on Syria, Obama cautiously embraced a Russian proposal for Syria to give up control of its chemical weapons to avoid a U.S. military strike.

In case you missed Obama's speech, here's a transcript of his full remarks.

Meanwhile, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) responded with his own speech.

Eliot Spitzer's comeback bid is over. He lost to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer in the Democratic primary for New York City comptroller Tuesday.

Public Advocate Bill de Blasio was the clear winner in the Democratic mayoral primary, but it wasn't clear whether he would face a runoff against former comptroller Bill Thompson.

The White House pledged in a statement on the eve of the 12th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks that it would bring those responsible for killing Americans in Benghazi, Libya, to justice.

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton (D) said debate about Syria is "good" for democracy.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) donated to charity the value of the gifts he received from a donor under scrutiny.

A Democratic poll shows Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) trailing Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).

Must-reads: 

"Obama’s Syria push scrambles Hill alliances" -- Joel Achenbach, Washington Post

"In Alaska, fears of a GOP Senate civil war" -- James Hohmann, Politico

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Chris Cillizza · September 10, 2013