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Colorado Republicans arm for elections 

As the Dems push forward on gun control, the GOP sets its sights farther out

With the Democratic majority set to pass a sweeping package of gun-law reforms through the state Legislature, frustrated Republicans have taken some solace by looking to 2014.

Speaking last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and directly to Democratic Sen. Jesse Ulibarri, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners executive director Dudley Brown was blunt: "Yes, Senator, we're going to give money ... for your opponents."

It was a threat that drew cheers and applause from the Senate committee chamber, and it's one Brown reiterates via e-mail to the Independent.

"RMGO will unveil it's [sic] plans for our PAC after the legislature has played out. But suffice it to say that our PAC is going to be deeply involved in removing legislators who supported gun control," Brown writes. "Given the current angst felt by huge numbers of citizens right now, the Democrats must know they've just woken up a sleeping giant."

Controlling the message

Colorado Springs Rep. Mark Waller, the House minority leader, notes that the fallout surrounding gun-issue debates has already scuttled some of the Democrats' plans.

"These bills were supposed to be their crowning moment in the Legislature this year," he says. "I believe the narrative that they were trying to create was, 'We, the House Democrats, care about victims, and Republicans are in the back pocket of the evil NRA.' That narrative just didn't materialize."

Missteps by Democratic representatives, he points out, seized much of the conversation. First came Rep. Joe Salazar's inartful explanation of his support for a bill to ban concealed-carry weapons on college campuses, then Rep. Evie Hudak's ill-fated attempt to explain her support for the same bill to a survivor of rape.

Both representatives have since apologized, but the bill has been killed by its sponsor. And, Waller says, "The narrative is bigger than that. These gun issues are just one point of illustration into what they are doing."

Other points, he says, include their squelching of an amendment to allow businesses to ignore civil unions based on religious preference, and trying to establish a grant-funded sex-education program in public schools ("Bananarama," News, Feb. 27).

"They are over-reaching in every area," Waller says.

Christy Le Lait, executive director of the El Paso County Democratic Party, says she doesn't see these gun bills hurting the Democrats. She scoffs at the idea that "universal background checks and magazine size are ... going to be the end of the Bill of Rights.

"Reasonable controls and restrictions, we accept on everything else in our lives," she says. "We drive cars that are registered. We have to pass tests to drive. We have restrictions and regulations on our food. ... To say that trying to do something for the safety of all Americans is going to cause the Democrats losses is greatly exaggerated and a wished-for outcome."

Banking on blowback

Mel Bernstein is owner of Dragonman's, a business east of the city that includes firearm sales, a shooting range, and a paintball park. He says he's already seen the impact of the gun debates.

He used to sell 3,000 to 4,000 bullets a week. Now he sells that daily.

But this temporary boom for him could be a bust for others. Bernstein points to the 200-plus employees at Magpul, the Erie-based weapons manufacturer that's threatened to move out of state if the Democrats' high-capacity magazine bill passes.

"It's hurting a lot of people," Bernstein says, "and I think that it's going to get worse."

Bernstein, it should be noted, is fine with mandatory registration laws, as they would, for one thing, increase the use of background checks. To buy a gun at Dragonman's, you have to pass a background check; but today, if you fail, he says, you can just find a private seller online.

A Keating Research poll last year found that 80 percent of Coloradans support background checks for gun purchases. That same poll found that a majority of Coloradans supported banning guns on college campuses, and restricting the sale of high-capacity magazines.

In a statement in response to Indy questions, Senate Majority Leader John Morse of Colorado Springs first cites those poll numbers. Then he mentions the 2012 tragedies that pushed gun rights to the fore.

"Twenty children were shot point blank at school in Newtown, along with six adults; twelve were killed and 58 others were injured while watching a movie in Aurora," Morse writes via e-mail. "To me, any expenditure of political capital is worth saving just one of those lives in the future."

Morse actually put forth perhaps the year's most controversial bill, since killed, to make owners and sellers of assault weapons liable for their use in crimes. But he's term-limited out of office in 2014. So it will be up to his colleagues to fend off Republicans like Lois Landgraf, who represents the Springs' House District 20. As she wrote in an op-ed (unpublished as of press time):

"The citizens who did not vote, or those who chose to vote for a minor party candidate that diluted the vote, now will face consequences they may not like and so much government control that they might consider their state akin to a police state. ... Take steps to take back Colorado from the statists who are ignoring the constitution and your rights."

chet@csindy.com

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