Sen. Morse and I started the 2013 legislative session amid a constituent outcry to curb gun violence in our communities. The movie theater shooting in Aurora last summer and the Newtown massacre in Connecticut had brought guns to the forefront of our agenda. We passed laws that extended our state’s background-check system to include private sales, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals; limited ammunition magazines to 15 rounds; and made sure that domestic abusers aren’t allowed to buy or keep guns.
Each of these laws is already making Colorado safer. According to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation, 28 criminalshave been denied a firearm through a private sale in the first eight weeks of the expanded background-check law. That’s more than four criminals a week, when we know all too well that it takes only one person with a weapon to shatter a life, a family, a community.
These proposals were, and still are, supported by an majority of Colorado voters. But our experience here in Colorado has been that, while extremist groups have a hard time making their case to general-election voters, they have far more control in low-turnout special elections.
A good friend in Pueblo told me about the school drills her young children must endure after the Newtown massacre. Kindergartners crouch behind overturned tables while an adult knocks on the door, pretending to be an “active shooter.” She said she struggles to decide what is most absurd about this scenario: that a particleboard tabletop would protect her children from automatic gunfire, that a shooter would take the trouble to knock on the classroom door or that her 5-year-old son now uses phrases like “active shooter” in everyday conversation.
Those kinds of stories compelled my votes in favor of gun-safety legislation. Hosting multiple town halls, touring a gun show and accepting an invitation to go shooting with a women’s group helped me understand many of the concerns of gun enthusiasts. I even amended our legislation to further accommodate the giving of firearms as gifts within families. In the end, I don’t believe — and I don’t think any legislator, anywhere, believes — that it is better to teach children to use a table as a shield than to enact public policy to protect us all from gun violence.
Our 2013 legislative session was the most productive in a long while. We modernized the way we fund schools and conduct elections. We raised renewable-energy standards and allowed undocumented Colorado high school graduates to get in-state tuition to attend college. We passed laws to regulate and tax recreational marijuana after voters legalized the drug in a 2012 ballot measure. And we extended equal rights for all couples by allowing civil unions. I find it helpful to remind people that 95 percent of the legislation we passed had bipartisan support.
A wide range of special interests that have never been concerned about efforts to curb gun violence were more than happy to let the national gun lobby take the lead in the campaign to remove us from office. The industrialist Koch brothers were also heavily involved in the recalls, which probably owed more to our efforts to limit harmful carbon emissions than our efforts to limit gun violence.
Legislators fearful of speaking their conscience should remember that various supporters came to our aid as well. While the news media seemed to care only about contributions from Michael Bloomberg, equally robust support came from organizations supporting workers, conservation groups, women’s groups and thousands of individual donors, to say nothing of the efforts of groups such as Colorado Ceasefire, Americans for Responsible Solutions and Moms Demand Action.
I didn’t seek elected office with an agenda to address gun safety. I entered the state Senate intent on advocating for women, children and communities of color. Their demand for safe gun laws is not going away, and neither am I.
Our story is not the cautionary tale the gun lobby would have you believe it is. Beneath the disappointment of not starting the 2014 legislative session with our colleagues, I feel a sense of peace and pride. There is now a counterbalance to the national gun lobby and a growing base of outspoken supporters. Politicians who have the courage to do the right thing and stand up to the gun lobby will from now on have the support of organizations willing to stand with the majority of Americans who want common-sense gun laws.
As Robert F. Kennedy said, “It is the essence of responsibility to put the public good ahead of personal gain.” Today, Colorado is safer because of the laws we passed. I have no regrets about that. One day Washington, D.C., and states that lack sensible gun laws may be safer as well.
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