Gun safety used to be a liability for Democrats in Colorado. Now it could be their greatest strength.
Five years after Colorado Democrats suffered a stinging electoral defeat at the hands of the NRA, party activists and their supporters are hoping the political landscape has changed so dramatically that the issue of gun safety could lead the party to victory in November.
That shift was highlighted when Everytown for Gun Safety, the national advocacy group, announced it's spending $650,000 to help Democrats retake the Colorado Senate this year.
Republicans currently enjoy just a one-seat margin in the Senate. If Democrats win the Senate, while maintaining the House and the governorship, Colorado could see significant next gun safety legislation next year.
The closely watched Senate contest in Colorado will likely be decided by five toss-up races, all of which feature Democratic women candidates.
If Democrat Tammy Story unseated Sen. Tim Neville, for instance, it would drastically change gun politics in the state Senate.
Neville voted against a popular gun safety measure last year, sponsored a proposal to remove the state's permit requirement to carry a concealed weapon, and even proposed allowing concealed guns to be carried into elementary schools.
“The politics on this issue have shifted dramatically in favor of gun safety — and nowhere is that more true than in Colorado,” Everytown for Gun Safety President John Feinblatt told the Denver Post.
Just five years ago, a backlash to gun safety measures cost two Democratic lawmakers their seats in a bitter recall campaign led by the NRA and pro-gun activists.
Following the Sandy Hook school gun massacre in Connecticut in late 2012, obstructionists Republicans in Washington, D.C. blocked Obama's common-sense proposals to address gun violence. But some state legislatures swung into action — including Colorado, where twelve people were murdered during the Aurora movie theater gun massacre in 2012.
Despite death threats during the legislative process, Colorado Democrats passed laws that required background checks for private gun sales and limited magazines to 15 rounds of ammunition.
The backlash among right-wing gun owners and outside interest groups was instantaneous. Encouraged by the NRA, GOP activists petitioned to recall Democratic state senators Angela Giron and John Morse, a retired police chief.
The recall effort quickly attracted not only national attention, but also millions of dollars in outside money on both sides.
In a close recall vote, Republicans won, picked up to the two seats, and soon won control of the Senate for the first time since 2004.
But if Democrats regain control of the Senate, they are very likely to pass new gun safety measures — and this time, the cash-strapped and politically toxic NRA might not be able to put up such a fight.
Just last session, Democrats in the Colorado General Assembly tried to pass a “red flag” bill.
The measure enjoys overwhelming support among Colorado voters, including among seven out of ten Republicans — but Republican lawmakers like Neville worked to kill it.
Red flag bills are an increasingly popular, common-sense measure that allow family members to petition a court for an emergency order to take away guns from someone who is believed to be a danger to themself or others.
The bill passed the Colorado House, which was controlled by Democrats. But GOP leaders in the Colorado Senate quickly thwarted the gun legislation, and the NRA cheered.
“When the red-flag bill got to the Senate, it was promptly assigned to the GOP-controlled State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee, where it was postponed indefinitely,” the Colorado Springs Independent reports.
Neville's re-election fight against Story is one of the five key toss-up races that could determine control of the state Senate.
It's a sign of just how dramatically gun politics have shifted in Colorado that Democrats have a chance of passing an important gun safety law next year — and that the issue of gun safety could even help Democrats take back the Senate.