In 2013, the Democratic-controlled Colorado General Assembly took action to pass limited enhancements of gun safety laws. This was done in the wake of high profile mass shooting incidents in the prior year, including the July 2012 killing of 12 moviegoers, with 70 more injured, at the Century Theater in Aurora. Colorado is a traditional Western state with historically restrained gun ownership regulations, but after the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, the state began to chart a different course by requiring background checks for sales of firearms at gun shows. Republican Gov. Bill Owens also gave the Colorado Bureau of Investigations responsibility for carrying out the instant background checks required under federal law after the federal checks missed information that could have stopped a Castle Rock man from buying a gun and killing his children in 1999.
The 2013 legislature passed new laws limiting the capacity of gun magazines sold in the state to 15 rounds, tightening regulation of concealed carry permit courses, protecting victims of domestic violence from gun-owning exes, and (most importantly) requiring background checks to be conducted for most sales and private transfers of guns in the state. Many other states introduced gun safety legislation in the wake of the Aurora and Newtown, Connecticut shootings, but Colorado was one of very few states that successfully passed them–standing out all the more because of the state's gun-owning Western heritage. The reason gun safety efforts in most states and the federal level sputtered after gaining substantial traction after Newtown was simple: the powerful gun lobby unleashed an onslaught of money and organizing to stop these proposals, and to destroy the public officials who backed them.
That Colorado Democrats in the General Assembly and Gov. John Hickenlooper withstood the gun lobby's over-the-top campaign against gun safety legislation is testament to an incredible level of discipline within the Democratic caucus–as well as the personal conviction of many members like Rep. Rhonda Fields of Aurora. Survivors and family members impacted by Columbine, the Aurora and Newtown shootings, and the gun violence that plagues communities in Colorado and across America offered riveting testimony. At the same time, the gun lobby and Republicans in the General Assembly launched into hysterics against the bills, flooding the debate with misleading hyperbolic jargon, and often complete nonsense. While Republicans were given wide latitude by the local media to level wild allegations about the consequences of the bills, Democratic gaffes and late-night outbursts of stupidity during the long debate were subjected to disproportionate scrutiny.
As readers know, the legislative battle over gun safety resulted in the first-ever successful recalls of two sitting Democratic state senators in September of 2013. Senate President John Morse, the former police officer who fearlessly led the fight to pass these bills, lost his urban Colorado Springs seat by a very narrow margin to city councilman Bernie Herpin. In Pueblo, Sen. Angela Giron fell victim to Byzantine local political squabbles egged on by the gun lobby's vengeance–losing her "safe" Democratic seat by a much greater margin than Morse to former Pueblo cop George Rivera. For a time, it certainly looked like the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara was correct: a "wave of fear" from these historic recalls would chill gun safety efforts across the nation: and maybe persuade frightened Colorado Democrats to roll back the laws pass in 2013.