As of yesterday afternoon, the two most important gun safety bills to survive the agonizing debate in the Colorado General Assembly are on the way to Gov. John Hickenlooper's desk: House Bill 1229, closing the so-called "background check loophole" and requiring a standard CBI background check for most sales of guns, House Bill 1228 reinstating a fee for background checks, and House Bill 1224 restricting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds. Other bills, like House Bill 1226 restricting on-campus concealed carry, and Senate President John Morse's Assault Weapons Responsibility Act, were killed by their sponsors. Two other bills considered wins for Democrats, Senate Bill 197 prohibiting guns to persons who commit domestic violence and Senate Bill 195 banning online only training for concealed-carry permits, are both now expected to pass.
This has been easily one of the longest and most brutal debates over legislation that anyone at the state capitol can remember. To call the opposition to these measures fierce was a considerable understatement. Although the gun safety legislation proposed by Democrats in the wake of mass shootings in Aurora and elsewhere last year is considered moderate compared to some other states, and the individual proposals enjoy broad majority support, the gun lobby proved adept at mobilizing impressive numbers of angry citizens–who then swamped committee hearings and legislative town halls regardless of their topic. The fever-pitch outrage from gun owners seems to have been meant to rattle Democrats into gutting or killing these bills.
Unfortunately, Republicans and their allies in the gun lobby chose to stoke that outrage with an uninterrupted string of outright lies, and deliberately obtuse "concerns" about the bills which had little or no basis in reality. In the case of House Bill 1229, which Gov. Hickenlooper explicitly called for in his State of the State address, the gun lobby and Republican legislators falsely told supporters from the beginning that the bill would "criminalize the private transfer of firearms." Most recently, Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute, in a video spreading virally throughout conservative media and social media, claims that if the magazine limit bill passed, "almost all guns in Colorado will never be able to get a magazine again." These are just two of countless examples we could cite.
These absurd lies may have riled up the mobs, but they insulted the intelligence of Democratic lawmakers.
It comes down to a question of Republican goals in this debate. What did they want to get out of this politically? If the goal was to rile up their own base in advance of the 2014 elections, we understand that–though that would be of limited utility a year and a half out. But folks, if their goal was to actually peel off enough Democrats to kill bills, the only success they Republicans can claim is House Bill 1226, and only because Democrats impaled themselves on their own gaffes with the bill. That strategy was, assuming the goal, a massive failure.
The fact is, House Bill 1229 (background checks) was always the highest priority for Democrats, and their allies local and national. House Bill 1224 was also a priority, more than we actually thought after Gov. Hickenlooper's office helped get the bill through its final votes by holding firm in support. Strategically, some of the bills in the "package" introduced at the beginning of this debate were meant to die as bargaining chips–or at least evidence of compromise. Democrats didn't plan for some of their members to insert feet in mouths quite like they did, but it's a reasonable argument that House Bill 1226 served its intended purpose best when its sponsor killed it.
Now, a coherent package of gun safety bills is on or soon to be on Gov. Hickenlooper's desk, and he too knows better than to believe the ridiculous last-minute "warnings" being sounded about these bills. We are fully confident that Hickenlooper is going to sign all five. When he does, and these bills take effect without the freakishly disastrous consequences Republicans and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners have been warning of?
What are they going to say then, folks?
When the sky does not fall on July 1, and these measures which enjoy strong majority support are shown to be entirely workable law, the failure of the campaign by Republicans and the gun lobby against them will be complete. The goal for the GOP should have been to kill these bills by persuading majority Democrats using the superior knowledge of the issue they supposedly possess. A bunch of dead bills would have had real political value in 2014, enabling a case for "overreach" that would never have to face facts. Instead, Republicans relied on silly, condescending "gotchas," a massive campaign of misinformation and misdirected emotion targeting the gun-owning public, and the resulting grossly misinformed public pressure to accomplish whatever their goal was.
As a result, Democrats will notch another major win, and Republicans will take yet another credibility hit.
Be gentle when you tell them, please. They really thought they had something going here.