Take-away from gun-control vote in Colorado


In Colorado, the gun lobby has taken its revenge.

The NRA and other pressure groups financed and helped organize the first recall campaigns allowed under Colorado law to take out two key Democratic state senators, John Morse — the upper chamber’s president — and Angela Giron.

What offense had these legislators committed? They supported legislation that limited the capacity of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and mandated universal background checks on gun purchases.

Gun rights groups wasted no time in crowing about these victories, even though they will not wrest the legislature from Democratic control. “The people of Colorado Springs sent a clear message to the Senate leader that his primary job was to defend their rights and freedoms and that he is ultimately accountable to them, his constituents, and not to the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun billionaires,” read a statement from the NRA.

Actually, the message was anything but clearly from “the people.” Turnout in Morse’s district was 21 percent and in Giron’s it was 35 percent. Large amounts of money flowed into the recall efforts from both pro- and anti-gun control groups from out of state. The recall drive had originally targeted four legislators but only ended up mustering enough signatures to go after Morse and Giron.

Still, the recall should be a wakeup call for gun control advocates everywhere.

Future legislative efforts need to be accompanied by massive voter education on how current gun laws affect crime, and how they inadequately address mental health and a whole range of other problems. Gun violence is a very complicated issue — much more complex than the shallow sloganeering of the public debate can fathom — and it’s not enough simply to muster enough votes to pass laws if a vocal and well-funded minority can prevail in single-issue campaigns by exploiting ignorance and fear.

Unfortunately, we should expect recall campaigns to be a more common strategy in the politics of gun control. Eighteen states currently have laws that allow the recall of elected officials; if recall efforts prove fruitful, look for conservatives to attempt to pass recall laws in other states.

If that happens, politicians will have more to fear in applying common sense thinking to a public health and safety issues. Tread carelessly on some group’s hot button issue, and you will have a target on your back. And the people taking potshots will not just be constituents, but motivated and deep-pocketed adversaries from all over the country.

As a consequence, gun control legislation will need to be more carefully conceived, it will have to be constantly defended, and that the constituency for it will need to be motivated and vigilant against backlash.

A large part of the impetus for the Colorado gun legislation (and perhaps other laws around the country) was the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Morse pointed to that motivation after his recall defeat. “We can’t continue to bury our children,” he said.

Surely, that’s a sentiment even those who voted for his recall could agree with. But a disconnect remains — between what current law permits (and new laws could reasonably prevent) and the question of rights and responsibilities. That’s where the hard work needs to begin.

Gun ownership is most certainly a right, guaranteed under the Second Amendment. But it also comes with responsibilities. Background checks, limits to rounds and other regulations can have positive effects on public safety. Yet, time and again, opponents successfully present these measures as an unfair burden to lawful gun owners.

In Colorado, many county sheriffs (who are elected officials) fought vigorously against the new legislation. They claimed that it was unenforceable and that it targeted the wrong people — certainly a problem, if true. The influence and esteem of the sheriffs probably played a big role in the recall votes. Whether their opinions on the legislation reflected valid concerns, however, or rather their own libertarian preconceptions is a question for debate.

What’s clear is that gun control advocates need to learn from defeats like the ones they were handed in Colorado. They must seek to make better laws, which means consulting with the local officials who will have to enforce the laws (up to a point — a sheriff is a sheriff, not a constitutional scholar or Supreme Court justice). And they need to keep the public informed and alert about what’s at stake. In the Colorado counties where the recalls succeeded, opinion on key gun control issues was evenly divided; what wasn’t evenly distributed was a sense of urgency.

As for recalls and what they will do to our political culture, it’s anybody’s guess. It is already horrendously draining, financially and psychologically, to run for office. This is the era of “gotcha” YouTube traps, the gossip-spreading abilities of the Internet and high dollar fund-raising. Those factors alone dissuade many of the most ethical, moral and intellectually solid candidates of any political persuasion from running for office. Why would a sane, rationale person submit to such a life?

©2013 The Kansas City Star

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Tony Lesesne


    Tony Lesesne: Overkill, and an apology

    Yes, it happens in South Florida, too — and it shouldn’t. Black men pulled over, needlessly hassled by police officers who give the rest of their colleagues a bad name, who make no distinction when a suspect has no other description than ‘black male,’ who harass residents because they can. A North Miami Beach officer pulls over a black man in a suit and tie — and behind the wheel of an Audi that simply had to be stolen, right? In another Miami-Dade city, an officer demands that an African-American man installing a vegetable garden justify why he has a shovel and seedlings. Detained for possession of cilantro? Here are five South Floridians who tell of their experiences in this community and beyond, years ago, and all too recently.

Delrish Moss


    Delrish Moss: Out after dark

    “I was walking up Seventh Avenue, just shy of 14th street. I was about 17 and going home from my job. I worked at Biscayne Federal Bank after school. The bank had a kitchen, and I washed the dishes. A police officer gets out of his car. He didn’t say anything. He came up and pushed me against a wall, frisked me, then asked what I was doing walking over here after dark. Then he got into his car and left. I never got a chance to respond. I remember standing there feeling like my dignity had been taken with no explanation. I would have felt better about that incident had I gotten some sort of dialogue. I had not had any encounters with police.


    Bill Diggs: Hurt officer’s feelings

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Miami Herald

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