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Fight Over Gun Control in Colorado Draws National Attention to Recall Elections

September 9, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
Colorado state senators John Morse and Angela Giron face recall elections after supporting tougher gun legislation implemented this year. Jeffrey Brown talks to Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio for a look at what's at stake ahead of the vote that's attracted national attention and millions of dollars from outside donors.

TRANSCRIPT

JUDY WOODRUFF: Next: the debate over guns in America.

Six months after Governor John Hickenlooper signed a sweeping gun control measure in response to the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, and the massacre in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, two Colorado state lawmakers are facing a recall election tomorrow.

For more on Tuesday’s vote, which is attracting national attention and money, we turn to Megan Verlee with Colorado Public Radio.

Megan, welcome back to the NewsHour.

First of all, tell us, who behind this effort to go after these lawmakers, and what started this whole thing?

MEGAN VERLEE, Colorado Public Broadcasting: Well, it started with a package of gun control legislation that our general assembly passed last spring, and the two most controversial elements were universal background checks for all gun sales, which closed the loophole for gun sales between private individuals, and a limit to the size of ammunition magazines to 15 rounds.

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Those were the pieces that really attracted a lot of public attention. The recall started at the grassroots level, people in these districts upset with those policies, but, as you have mentioned, very rapidly attracted a large amount of outside money.

We’re looking at about $3.5 million spent in these two districts so far. The bulk of that is coming from people opposing the recall, supporting the incumbent lawmakers. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is behind the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, has contributed about $350,000.

Eli Broad, another gun-control-supporting philanthropist, has contributed around a quarter million dollars. And on the other side, the National Rifle Association has really been pouring in a lot of money, around $350 million so far, to try and get these state senators recalled.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, remind us, who are the state — the state officials they’re trying to recall? Why did they pick on these two?

MEGAN VERLEE: Well, one of them is our state Senate president, John Morse, obviously a very high-profile target with this policy, and a lawmaker who really spearheaded both of these bills.

The other one is Senator Angela Giron. She’s from Pueblo in the southern part of the state, and she wasn’t particularly active on this policy, although very supportive of it. In her case, she had a district where opponents of gun control were able to get enough signatures to move forward with the recall election.

There were actually recall efforts in a couple of other state lawmakers’ districts that didn’t get to point of getting to the ballot. In State Senate President John Morse’ case, he comes from a very closely divided district. He only won his last election by a couple of hundred votes.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Right.

MEGAN VERLEE: And so he is a very high-profile target and he is seen as a very vulnerable target.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Governor Hickenlooper was behind these gun control measures. So there was some sense in the state of Colorado that voters would be for it. But did he and others pushing gun control misread the Colorado electorate?

MEGAN VERLEE: Well, I think we’re waiting to find that out.

And while the recalls obviously are attracting a huge amount of attention, I think, even looking further down the road, Hickenlooper himself is up for reelection next year. And the latest polling shows that his popularity, which was considered to be quite high earlier this year, has taken a big hit.

And a lot of that is coming from voters saying, we thought this was a very moderate governor. We considered him very nonpartisan, but he stepped in the middle of gun control, which is a very hot issue, and now we see him as a much more partisan, much more Democratic governor. And so he is losing a lot of moderate support that he had until now.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Megan, how much discussion is there in Colorado about how much this could spread to other parts of the country? Because it seems to me that’s what these outside groups are looking at.

MEGAN VERLEE: Exactly.

For supporters of gun control, they really have to dig in their heels and throw money at this to stiffen the backs of other politicians around the country who might be considering gun control legislation and are looking to Colorado to find out, can you have a career after that?

Similarly, if you’re a supporter of gun rights, you really want to see these recalls succeed, because that is seen as maybe putting a stop to a trend of more restrictive gun legislation elsewhere. And Colorado being a purple state, being a state with a very red, conservative history, this is a much hotter battleground than some of the Eastern states, which have passed actually more restrictive gun control laws in the past year as well.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Megan Verlee, Colorado Public Radio, thank you. It’s a vote we will all be watching tomorrow.

MEGAN VERLEE: Thank you.