The Colorado recall was about more than gun control

By Rosslyn Smith

There was much more going on in Tuesday’s recall elections Colorado than an up and down vote on Second Amendment Issues. We may be looking at a bipartisan rebellion against a problem that afflicts both parties: lawmakers passing laws that make them feel virtuous but which are either ineffectual or actually make life worse for the voters.


infringement_prevention-ordinance_2nd_amendment_small The Colorado recall was about more than gun control


It was arrogance and overreaching that deposed the leader of the Colorado State Senate and a female Hispanic Democrat from a district where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 24 percent.

As Glenn Reynolds noted after the Newtown mass shooting, what we really need is a waiting period for laws.

After every tragedy, legislation gets rushed through that’s typically just a bunch of stuff that various folks had long wanted all along, but couldn’t pass before. Then it’s hustled through as a “solution” to the tragedy, even though close inspection usually reveals that the changes wouldn’t have prevented the tragedy, and don’t even have much to do with it.

Legislators like news stories that praise them for responding to the media’s cry to Do Something! They also know there are seldom stories about how the media’ preferred solution had unintended consequences because the media shares the political class’s bias that all problems need a government solution-preferably the federal government, but state governments will do. Perhaps on Tuesday in two Democrat leaning districts voters rejected this approach. 

Could this be possible?  Consider how Public Policy Polling got burned in this recall election. 

We did a poll last weekend in Colorado Senate District 3 and found that voters intended to recall Angela Giron by a 12 point margin, 54/42. In a district that Barack Obama won by almost 20 points I figured there was no way that could be right and made a rare decision not to release the poll. It turns out we should have had more faith in our numbers becaue [sic] she was indeed recalled by 12 points.

Here is why PPP says they considered such prescient numbers unreliable. 

What’s interesting about our poll is that it didn’t find the gun control measures that drove the recall election to be that unpopular. Expanded background checks for gun buyers had 68/27 support among voters in the district, reflecting the overwhelming popularity for that we’ve found across the country. And voters were evenly divided on the law limiting high capacity ammunition magazines to 15 bullets, with 47% supporting and 47% opposing it. If voters were really making their recall votes based on those two laws, that doesn’t point to recalling Giron by a 12 point margin.

So if the details of the Colorado gun control law itself were popular in the Pueblo and Colorado Springs areas, why were the state senators recalled?  PPP attributes the result to the NRA’s high favorable image in the region, but this misses a very important local issue that was mainly discussed on gun control sites and in the local Colorado media.  In a sprawling state like Colorado much of the law enforcement work is done not by unionized urban police departments run by politically appointed chiefs, but by elected county sheriffs.  County government is pretty much the orphan child of American politics.  The national and regional press rarely covers county government unless it is to denigrate elected county officials as the modern version of Buford T. Justice.  Nor are county-wide races widely polled.  Yet to many Americans, county government represents the government they are mostly likely to encounter every day — and sheriffs are respected.

After Newtown the Democrat leadership in the Colorado legislature pretty much declared “We don’t need no stinkin’ sheriff’s input on gun control legislation.”  The law was passed with little or no direct input from local law enforcement professionals as opposed to gun control activists and appointed bureaucrats.  And why not? The pundits were for it.  The media coverage was positive.  The activists were pouring money into the issue.  Obama himself came and spoke for gun control while surrounded by (all politically appointed) police chiefs and police cadets. 

The result was a law in which parts are so incredibly unworkable that 55 of the 62 elected sheriffs in Colorado joined in Cooke et al. v. Hickenlooper .  This has been huge news in Colorado, as it should be.  When 90 percent of senior elected law enforcement joined together to sue the governor because a duly enacted state law is considered an unenforceable farce by those who actually know something about guns, the issue becomes one of the abuse of the political process itself. 

Fifteen rounds may sound like more than enough to an urban legislator whose major sources of information about guns are TV shows where everyone is always a crack shot.  But 20 and 30 round magazines for semiautomatic “assault rifles” are not an uncommon sight in coyote country.  Nor is it hard to modify a magazine.  And what makes sense about turning a serviceman into a criminal because before he is deployed overseas he leaves a gun with his fiance for her personal protection. Under this law I’d be a criminal because I let a trusted neighbor borrow my 20 gauge when hers broke during hunting season.

The sheriffs and their objections didn’t make much of an impression with the major media in the region.  Here is what the Weld County Colorado Sheriff had to say to a Denver critic who pretty much stated that the 55 sheriffs’ input shouldn’t matter:

First, sheriffs are the county’s chief law enforcement officers, and all residents vote for their sheriff except in Denver and Broomfield. In contrast, chiefs of police are appointed and often “represent” the views of their boss, usually a mayor or city manager.

Second, voters in many of the 55 counties overwhelming supported their sheriffs in the 2010 election. El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa won re-election with over 81 percent of the vote. Grayson Robinson of Arapahoe County won with nearly 60 percent. I won with over 70 percent, just to name a few.

The above counties are not populated by hayseeds nor are the above sheriffs rubes.  Weld County is the ninth most populous in the state and includes Greeley. Arapahoe County wraps around the south and east of Denver and includes both Aurora and Littleton.  El Paso County is the most populous county in the state and includes, Colorado Springs.  It is also home to recalled State Senate President John Morse. 

Sheriff Terry Maketa is a formidable politician, as evidenced by an 81% reelection total, The Sheriff has had a contentious relationship with Senate President Morse;  Maketa had been a critic from the start about how the legislature completely closed down testimony from those opposed to their gun control bill.   It sounded like Obamacare all over again, a law drafted by insiders completely uninterested in the input of others, especially if they suggested parts of it may not work.  Maketa also has accused Morse of attempting to punish the state’s sheriffs by holding up law enforcement appropriations as retaliation.  On Tuesday, the voters sided with Sheriff Maketa over former Fountain, Colorado, Police Chief John Morse, a man who has acquired many academic degrees while garnering few accomplishments.

The political class badly wants to believe Tuesday’s election was only about gun control and the NRA’s clout.   But what if it was also about the abuse of the legislative process and with it the abuse of trust itself?  What if voters have had enough of ineffective laws being passed just to show to talking heads that ambitious political leaders did something?  What if voters have had enough of the political class dictating all the terms, always in pursuit of the media/political class agenda?  What if voters have finally had it with bills becoming laws without a proper vetting in advance?  What if the voters are tired of ill-informed legislators criminalizing common behavior among the country class because all they care about is the media narrative?  What if voters are tired of bureaucratic obfuscation, technocrat double talk and misleading photo-ops in favor of common sense and plain speaking?

Watch Sheriff Terry Maketa and decide for yourself if this was all about gun control or about arrogant legislators passing stupid and largely unenforceable laws without citizen input.