Governor Owens: On the Brink of Political Suicide?
by Ari Armstrong, September 1999
Colorado's Republican Governor Bill Owens, who courted pro-gun voters for his close election in 1998, now plans to propose several new gun control laws in the 2000 session. He wants to impose mandatory gun locks, prevent adults 18-21 years old from purchasing guns for self-defense, and expand the government's database of lawful firearms owners by requiring private sellers to conduct background checks at gun shows.
When asked if he thinks adopting large portions of the anti-gun lobby's platform will create division in his party (August 23, The Denver Post), Owens replied, "What are [gun owners] going to do -- vote Democratic?"
Gun owners might not vote at all, or they might support a third party. Ed Cole, a gun activist from Boulder and a Republican precinct committee person said, "If Owens continues on this path, he is committing political suicide."
Asked if he is worried that a Democrat might win the Governor's office, Cole said, "It wouldn't make any difference. Owens is acting like a Democrat now."
Saint Louis novelist and gun rights activist John Ross speculates that George Bush lost the support of gun rights supporters -- and lost his presidential election -- by passing executive orders infringing on the right to bear arms. Cole concurs, stating, "We did it to George Bush, we did it to Bob Dole, and we'll do it to Bill Owens. Bill Owens won because of the gun-rights vote, and he now seems intent on alienating that vote." Cole predicted many gun owners will leave the Republican party and actively campaign against those Republicans who support gun control.Len Horner, President of the Firearms Coalition, also expressed discontent with Owens's recent behavior. "The minute the pressure is on, the Governor, who we thought was going to be a champion for gun rights, turns out to be soft on the issue."
In reply to Owens's brush-off, the Colorado State Shooting Association (which is affiliated with the National Rifle Association) linked to a Post article with the added heading, "Screw the gun owner, Gov. Owens says." (Another Post article follows up on the story.) The group also linked to the Libertarian Party of Colorado on their links page.
Betty Rose Smith, State Chair of the Libertarian Party, said, "We welcome gun owners to our party. We welcome their support and their votes. The Libertarian Party is committed to the principles of the Second Amendment. Governor Owens believes gun owners have no other choice but the Democratic Party. But gun owners do have a choice, to vote Libertarian."
The Libertarian Party has elected one Sheriff to office who is a strong supporter of gun rights -- Bill Masters in Telluride. In the 1998 elections, the LP cost Republicans two seats in the legislature, proving that it can make waves in Colorado politics.
The criticisms of the Firearms Coalition and the CSSA are the mild ones. The more "principled" (or "extreme," depending on one's point of view) Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has dubbed Owens "Governor Gun Control" and has said Owens has "stabbed gun owners in the back" since taking office.
Republican state legislators have been asked to fall into line in support of Owens's gun control proposals. Republican State Chairman Bob Beauprez wrote party members urging them to support Owens in closing the alleged "loopholes in our gun laws." (A "loophole" is any vestige of freedom American citizens retain to bear arms uncontrolled by federal and state politicians.) According to RMGO, in the letter "gun rights supporters are told, in essence, to sit down, shut up, and take their medicine." But gun rights activists do not seem eager to do that.
And Owens is not the only target of gun rights advocates. RMGO protested a fund-raiser of Congressman Tom Tancredo's on August 25. Tancredo, once a champion of gun rights and a former president of the conservative-libertarian Independence Institute, has recently come out in favor of mandatory gun locks, expanded government databases of gun owners, and the ban on the importation of gun magazines.
State Representative Scott McKay said Tancredo has been "voting like a Democrat." McKay suggested that someone needs to challenge Tancredo in a primary. In response to this, Tancredo invited, "Come and get me!" McKay is still contemplating whether he is the one to do that.
Tancredo won office in a Republican stronghold, so his job carries some amount of security. But Owens won by the barest of margins. Neither politician seems likely to pick up the support of anti-gun lobby groups. But both seem determined to lose the support of gun rights activists in the state.