Two Colorado senators kicked out by power of US gun lobby
Elections forced by activists may be start of nationwide move against gun-control supporters
The removal of two Colorado state senators who voted for tighter gun control serves as an example of what can happen to US lawmakers who support gun restrictions - even in a state that has suffered two of the worst mass shootings in the nation's history.
Well-organised activists who campaigned for recall votes against Colorado Senate President John Morse and Senator Angela Giron got the backing of gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association. But voters were already so incensed by passage of the gun-control package that both Morse and Giron were ousted by the recall elections held on Tuesday.
The effect of the recalls on other states isn't yet clear. Only 10 other states allow state lawmakers to be recalled for any reason, but social media and e-mail lists have made it easier to build support among angry voters.
Democrats, who maintain control of the legislature in Colorado - where 12 students and one teacher were killed in the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School and where 12 people were killed in the 2012 shooting at an Aurora cinema - said the recall was purely symbolic.
But they could be a sign of things to come in 2014, both in Colorado's governor race and in scores of other political contests around the country.
After last year's mass shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, Colorado was the only state beyond Democratic strongholds New York, California and Connecticut to pass gun-control legislation. Gun-control measures died in Congress, as well as Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Delaware.
Despite being outspent by about five to one, recall supporters cited a big anti-recall donation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to argue that Democrats controlling the state legislature were more interested in listening to the White House and outside interests than their own constituents.
Political analyst Floyd Ciruli said voters seem to have been upset about what they saw as government overreach not just on guns but on other parts of the Democratic agenda. Polling showed individual gun laws, such as limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, had some support, but the size and speed of the gun package and other Democratic bills may have contributed to the senators' fate, he said.
Bloomberg downplayed the vote as a low-turnout, off-year election and said the NRA would not go unchallenged in future recalls.
"We're committed to backing elected officials across the country who are willing to face these attacks because they agree with Americans about the need for better background checks," he said in a statement.
Republicans hope to build on their victories next year, when Democrat Governor John Hickenlooper will be up for re-election. The governor initially shied away from pushing for gun-control measures after the Aurora shooting, which happened in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign. But he later reversed course just before the Newtown massacre.
Christian Sinderman, a political consultant for that initiative, said that a state recall election cannot be construed as a national referendum.
"If anything, the Colorado experience tells us we're doing the right thing to seek a popular vote," Sinderman said.
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the recall effort in Colorado was an anomaly, but activists must be aware of the risk that lawmakers may shy away from supporting gun legislation.
Gross said he is not expecting recall efforts elsewhere and that advocates continue to seek support in Congress for a national bill on background checks.
Sinderman said gun-control proponents are sensitive to the power of the NRA and its ability to target districts.
"The unfortunate reality of the Colorado experience is that the NRA bullying tactics can still work," he said.