Colorado State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) were recalled yesterday in an election that the media is describing as having major implications for the future of the gun debate. Both senators were targeted for recall over their support for Colorado's new gun laws, which include expanded background checks and a 15-round limit for firearm magazines.
National groups on both sides of the political divide poured money into the recall elections over the past months. Supporters of stronger gun laws would surely have preferred that Giron and Morse had won.
But before the media returns to promoting the myth of National Rifle Association electoral dominance and suggests that the recall of the two Colorado state senators proves that all elected officials who push for stronger gun laws risk their jobs, here are a few things they should consider.
The Gun Laws Supported By Giron And Morse Are Popular Statewide. On March 20, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun violence prevention measures into law: requiring a background check on all gun sales except those between family members, imposing a $10 fee to process background checks, and limiting firearm magazine capacity to 15 rounds. Giron and Morse's support for these measures was the catalyst for the recall efforts. An August 22 poll by Quinnipiac University found that the majority of voters in Colorado approve of the specific pieces of the gun law package -- they expressed support for expanded background checks by an 82 to 16 percent margin and support for the limit on magazine capacity by a 49 to 48 percent margin. While Giron and Morse were defeated, the legislation they support is popular with state voters at large.
The Recall Turnout Was Extremely Low. A very small number of voters determined the recall election. In fact, voter turnout in Morse and Giron's districts were both substantially lower in the recall election compared to the 2010 state senate elections. Only 21 percent of 84,029 registered voters in Morse's district voted in the recall election. A mere 9,094 people voted in favor of recall; he lost his seat by a margin of 343 votes. Turnout was about 11,000 voters higher in Morse's 2010 senate election. Turnout in Giron's district was only 36 percent; 10,000 more people voted in her 2010 Senate election. Deriving national trends from low-turnout recall elections seems unwise.
Efforts To Recall Other Members Who Supported Stronger Gun Laws Failed. Opponents of stronger gun laws didn't intend to recall just Giron and Morse; they originally targeted two other lawmakers as well. But an effort to recall Sen. Evie Hudak was suspended by organizers three weeks before the deadline. And an effort to recall Rep. Mike McLachlan also failed when the Colorado Secretary of State reported that no signatures were turned in before a deadline.
The results of the recall elections do not alter the reality that the NRA very rarely determines the outcomes of elections. Claims that NRA endorsements are crucial for candidates and that the group's support can turn an election -- often promoted by the media -- are largely mythical. Indeed, during the 2012 elections the NRA spent more than $18 million -- including nearly $12 million on the presidential race -- to little effect.
And just as stronger gun laws remain popular in Colorado, nationwide voters continue to express strong support for legislation to expand background checks on gun sales and proposals to limit high-capacity magazines.