Guns and Colorado Politics: Remarks to the Pro-Second Amendment Committee
by Ari Armstrong
The following remarks are based on a speech I delivered March 12, 2005, to the Fifteenth Annual Pro-Second Amendment Committee Banquet in Grand Junction. Elsewhere I review that event. -- Ari Armstrong
It's a pleasure to be speaking here on the Front Range, as my dad calls the Western Slope. I guess that means I'm from the Back Range...
We thought CU Professor Ward Churchill might attend the banquet this evening, but he was busy copying somebody else's essay. However, Churchill did send me on an errand. He has produced original, Native American art, never before seen in the history of civilization, and he asked me to sell it for him here at the banquet tonight. So please take a moment to reflect upon Churchill's talent and originality. Here it is, a piece Churchill calls "Monahontas:"
When my father asked me to share some comments this evening, my first response was, "I don't really have anything to talk about right now." There's not much activity in the state legislature concerning firearms, and I've been spending my time writing about Ward Churchill, the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, and Social Security.
But then it occurred to me that that is the story. Why is it that, at least in Colorado, gun owners are not currently under attack? Is this likely to last?
Let's review some recent history. Following the Columbine murders in 1999, initially all sorts of things were blamed: prescription drugs, music, parents, the school. Of course, some people even blamed the two perpetrators -- a novel concept. But then the left and the media focused on guns, and that drum beat lasted for many months.
However, gun owners fought back with three main arguments. First, guns were not responsible for those murders. Second, Guns are useful, and they are almost always used properly. Third, people have a human right and a Constitutional right to defend themselves, a right rooted in the fundamental right to life.
We lost the battle over Amendment 22, which required expanded registration checks at gun shows, but then we had some important successes. In 2003 the Colorado legislature passed a concealed-carry law, meaning that most people in Colorado can apply to carry a gun concealed, and they can't be denied arbitrarily. The law, which took effect May 18, 2003, is valid even in Boulder and Denver. In 2003 the legislature also passed a "preemption" law, which means, for example, that cities like Denver and Boulder can't arbitrarily ban rifles that don't happen to be politically correct. Unfortunately, this law took a hit by Denver District Judge Joseph Meyer. Opponents argued it limited "local control." Nationally, the so-called "assault weapons" ban expired on September 13, 2004. This ended a decade of arbitrary restrictions on some semi-automatic rifles.
But of course the fight is never over. Some politicians are always looking for crusades to increase their power. And some people feel they need to control the populace. Now in various places we are seeing an attack on .50 caliber rifles and an attempt to strip people of their rights without due process. These are dangerous trends, and we must be on the lookout. The general trend is to attack the right to bear arms starting on the margins, banning some guns and restricting some law-abiding people. But of course the end game for many is the complete prohibition of guns, or at least most kinds of guns.
So let us turn to Colorado politics. I sent an e-mail to Mark Hillman, the Senate Minority Leader. I asked, "I haven't heard of any Democratic anti-gun bills in the legislature this year. Is there something I missed? What's your explanation for this?"
Hillman replied, "I haven't either. My suspicion is that they want to be perceived as focusing on 'the big picture' (i.e., eviscerating TABOR), and that they'll play to their base next year."
Unfortunately, there is some chatter from the Democrats consistent with Hillman's prediction.
In a late 2004 e-mail Ken Gordon, the Senate Majority Leader, wrote, "...I was trying to overthrow a right-wing Republican monopoly in my state. A monopoly that had caused Colorado's government to be more about gays, guns and God, than education, health care, jobs and the environment."
And here's a quote from the Rocky Mountain News (Gwen Florio, November 13, 2004): "'We're going to do what we said we were going to do -- work on the things that matter,' [Ken Gordon] said, ticking off a list that included transportation, education and, of course, the state budget crisis. 'We're going to get off this right-wing agenda of gays, guns and God'."
But Gordon isn't telling the whole story.
In 1999, Ken Gordon sponsored bill 1242 to impose registration checks at gun shows. This was the precursor for Amendment 22.
In 2001, Gordon sponsored a mandatory-gun storage law, otherwise known as "lock up your safety."
On February 13, 2004, Gordon wrote, "Safe Storage of Guns to Prevent Juvenile Access, SB 158: On Tuesday of this week I presented a Safe Storage bill to Senate State Affairs committee... I carried a similar bill in 2001... [that] was defeated... I believe that if we do this bill as an initiative it will get nearly 70% of the vote. This is what the background check at gun show bill got."
I think Ken Gordon must have been smoking something out of Ward Churchill's peace pipe. Colorado has taken a pronounced turn toward recognizing the right of self-defense, so there's no way a mandatory storage bill would pull numbers like that.
By the way, speaking of Amendment 22 and local control, Mesa County and third of Colorado counties voted against Amendment 22. Where were all the "local control" advocates back then?
Obviously, gun-restriction laws are a long-time part of the Democratic agenda, though there are some relatively Second Amendment-friendly Democrats in the state.
So what can we look forward to in 2006? Chances are good that the budgetary problem will be "fixed," which means that we're likely to see massive tax hikes. (That reminds me of the definition of politics -- poly meaning many and tick meaning blood sucking arachnid.)
The Democrats took control of both sides of the legislature in 2004. What's going on with the Democratic Party in this state now?
Here are some quotes from the Denver Post (Susan Greene, March 7):
"Still in question is exactly what kind of change nonprofit director Pat Waak of Erie will bring after edging out chairman Chris Gates by three votes in the Democratic State Central Committee."
"'If they're trying to take the party in a leftward direction, it's self-destructive, and it flies in the face of what we accomplished this past cycle,' said Jim Gibson, president of the moderate Colorado Democratic Leadership Council."
"'Talk about a case of wanting to self-destruct,' said AFL-CIO president Steve Adams, whose members are credited largely for recent Democratic wins. 'I worry we had this team together that worked together so well, and suddenly that wasn't good enough. Now we're reinventing the wheel again'."
"'If this is a change to take the party to the left, that could be disastrous,' [Former Democratic chairman Tim Knaus] said."
And here's a quote from the Rocky Mountain News (John Aguilar, March 7): "'The Colorado Democratic Party may now be one of the more liberal Democratic parties in the country -- not the voters, but the party activists,' [pollster Floyd] Ciruli said... Waak beat Gates - 187 to 184 - at the Democratic State Central Committee meeting on Saturday. Gates disputes the outcome, claiming that seven proxy votes sent in on his behalf were discarded improperly."
Interestingly, it is the Democrats who complained in the last Presidential elections that we must make every vote count. This sentiment seems to have receded when it comes to intra-party votes.
So the Democratic party may be moving left, but it's still powerful. Here are a couple of additional trends.
While Governor Bill Owens has done some helpful things for gun owners, he is at best a fair-weather friend. After 1999, Owens supported numerous gun-restriction laws, including expanded registration checks at gun shows, increased purchase-age requirements for young adults, and storage requirements. So Owens may buckle to the Democrats in 2006. Also, Owens is likely to have little campaign influence in the 2006 election for governor.
Here's another important item, from the Denver Post (Fred Brown, February 27): "Term limits may help Democrats in the 2006 legislative elections, possibly ending their historic pattern of losing control at voters' first opportunity... Eighteen state legislators will hit the term-limits wall in 2006. Fourteen are Republicans. When the 2006 elections roll around, 48 incumbent Democrats will be eligible to run for re-election. The Republicans will have only 33 incumbents." Obviously, this will disadvantage Republicans next year.
So what can we expect next year? Will the Democrats maintain control of both parts of the legislature? Before Owens, Colorado had a long history of voting for Democratic governors, so might we end up with a Democrat as governor, too? However, Colorado also has a long history of voting for gridlock, so I would be surprised if at least one of the three governmental entities didn't return to the Republicans.
I want to return to Ken Gordon's comments. He tries to make out the right to keep and bear arms as a "right wing" issue only. However, the right of self-defense is a profoundly liberal issue in the classical sense. The right of civilians to possess arms is about individual rights and limiting the concentration of power in the hands of state officials. It is thus fundamental to liberalism, properly understood.
On January 31, Pat Waak, the new state Democratic leader, wrote, "The Colorado Democratic Party's strength and vitality rests on its diversity and inclusiveness."
Well, what about inclusiveness of gun owners? Don't let Democrats get away with bigotry against gun owners, and don't let them dismiss the issue as "right wing."
...So we must continue to make the arguments, assist with education and quality training, and handle firearms responsibly and create a culture of responsibility. My dad is right that it's about winning hearts and minds. And that's part of what the Pro-Second Amendment Committee and the Grand Valley Training Club do... So thank you.