Gun Sense Commands Big Dollars in Colorado Elections

Photo by Robert Freiberger, via FlickrJust over a year ago, state Senate President John Morse was recalled from his Colorado Springs seat for playing a leading role in passing gun-control measures in the state legislature that now require universal background checks for all public and private gun sales as well as banning magazines holding more than 15 rounds. This year, he’s helping gun-control advocacy group Colorado Moms Demand Action establish an independent expenditure committee to support candidates running for the state legislature — including Democrat Michael Merrifield, who’s running to unseat the man who snagged Morse’s job in the recall, Republican Colorado Springs Sen. Bernie Herpin.

Morse, an accountant, is the designated filing agent for Moms Demand’s new committee, which will report its spending for the fist time in late October. The group maintains his role is practical, not political.

As ballots dropped this week, Moms Demand began sending emails to in-district “gun sense voters” registered through their national affiliate Everytown for Gun Safety.

“Our records show that you live in State Senate District 11, where we have a chance to defeat gun lobby candidate Bernie Herpin and replace him with gun sense champion Michael Merrifield … Can we count on your vote?” reads one version of the blast.

The “gun lobby” referenced in the mailer is Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, whose director Dudley Brown has been heavily involved in state politics for at least two decades and has specialized in demanding no-holds-barred gun-rights pledges from legislative candidates. To push back on the group’s influence in state politics this cycle, Moms Demand is putting boots on the ground in Colorado Springs and opening a Jefferson County office from which to mobilize “gun sense voters” and volunteers to tip the scales in tight elections.

“In Jefferson County and in Colorado Springs, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has hand-picked candidates … their top priority is to repeal Colorado’s gun laws. Moms don’t get that,” asserted Jennifer Hope, Colorado chapter leader for the national organization.

Hope noted that polling a year after universal background checks were passed in the state found 85 percent of Colorado voters support the measure.

The numbers, from that same April, 2014, Quinnipiac poll, are more mixed on Colorado’s other recent gun control law — a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 15 rounds. Voters disapproved of that law 51 percent to 45 percent.

Voters overwhelmingly disliked the gun-control measures when asked about them as a bloc, 56 percent to 39 percent.

That means Moms Demand and their umbrella organization Everytown for Gun Sense are taking this election seriously. They’re looking to preserve a “gun sense” majority in the Colorado General Assembly with hyper-local voter outreach likely boosted by the $50 million Bloomberg-backed Everytown has pledged to spend nationwide in an effort to combat the National Rifle Association this election cycle.

Moms Demand Action and Everytown have now endorsed a slew of Colorado Democrats, including top-of-ticket candidates in statewide races like U.S. Senator Mark Udall and Governor John Hickenlooper and have trained intense focus on swing-district state legislators Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk, Sen. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, Sen. Andy Kerr, D-Lakewood, and candidate for state senate Michael Merrifield, D- Colorado Springs.

“We are standing up for legislators who took a stand for Colorado’s gun safety laws — laws that are already making a tremendous difference in our state,” said Hope. “We need leaders who believe we should make it harder for criminals and the dangerously mentally ill to get firearms, not easier.”

The group is also supporting candidates who are in tight races against staunchly pro-gun, RMGO-approved candidates. Hope said the plan is to rally the pro-gun control base. They’ll be starting with a many-thousands roster of pledged “gun sense voters” collected by Everytown.

“For the first time moms are able to get out there and show support, get involved and make their voices heard on gun violence prevention,” said Hope. “Voters want to hear that and they want to hear it from their neighbors.”

The Colorado Moms Demand Action independent expenditure committee is only spending on state legislative races and their first filing is due October 27. Hope says they’re working to raise as much local money as possible with which to mobilize voters and encourage them to volunteer with local campaigns.

Even with this latest push, the pro-gun control electoral movement in Colorado has some catching up to do. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has taken serious interest in state politics in recent years, boosting a battery of pro-gun candidates and forming a political action committee (PAC) and a Super PAC. With those two arms combined, RMGO has spent more than $200,000 on this election as of their most recent filing, October 14.

Colorado is also the focus of national gun money this election cycle. Another gun-control organization run by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, Americans for Responsible Solutions, will also reportedly be spending some of its $17 million this election cycle in support of Colorado Democrats, though likely only in national races — specifically Mark Udall’s race against Republican Cory Gardner.

The National Rifle Association has endorsed two Republican candidates at the statewide level — Gardner in the Senate race and former Congressman Bob Beauprez in the governor’s race. ABC reports that the nation’s top pro-gun organization will spend $1.3 million on ads supporting Gardner.


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