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Colorado recall election prompts gun debate

By Leigh Ann Caldwell, CNN
updated 6:50 PM EDT, Wed September 11, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Two Colorado state senators lost jobs for a vote in favor of gun control
  • National Rifle Association spent $400,000 on the recall
  • New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg invested $350,000
  • Has implications for politicians supporting gun control

Washington (CNN) -- A recall election in Colorado has shown that the national debate over guns is just as bitterly contested as ever. Two state senators who voted for stricter gun laws earlier this lost their jobs in a recall election and the outcome is reverberating through the country.

State Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and his colleague, state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo, were faced with a recall after voting for Colorado's new gun law that imposed universal background checks on gun purchases and limited magazines to 15 rounds. It was the first ever recall in the state.

Pro-gun control Democrats ousted in Colorado recall

The two local, off-year elections had low turnout. Only 21 percent of registered voters participated in one contest and 35 percent in the other. But the races were watched by political observers and even received a response from the head of the Democratic Party. The elections garnered national spotlight because of the topic that initiated the recall: gun control.

After the mass shooting in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that killed 12 in July 2012 and the Newtown, Connecticut, massacre five months later that killed 26 people, mostly children, a mobilization formed to enact stricter gun laws. Colorado was the second state after New York to pass a tougher standard. Gun control advocates celebrated the steps as progress.

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Colorado recall a proxy in national gun control debate

"We've seen a lot change in the last year," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Stop Gun Violence, said.

But gun control opponents haven't been sitting on the sidelines. They launched Colorado's first ever recall effort. The powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, told CNN that it spent between $400,000 and $500,000 to oust the Democratic lawmakers.

The NRA vehemently denied that this was a national effort.

"The genesis was very much a local effort. There were voters who were not happy with the actions of the two senators and they decided to organize a recall election," NRA spokesperson Andrew Arulanandam said. "What happened in Colorado was the democratic process working."

Eric Sondermann, a political analyst in Colorado, agreed. He said the recall was more about state politics than the gun vote.

Elections "yin and yang back and forth," he said, adding the party in power quickly becomes the party people want out of power.

Regardless, the NRA and other anti-gun control groups got involved and invested heavily. Both candidates lost despite an August Pew poll that showed Colorado voters disapproved of the recall election two to one.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has become a major proponent of gun control, also got involved. He contributed $350,000 to keep the lawmakers in office.

Missouri bill would void federal gun laws

While Gross insisted that the vote is not a referendum on gun legislation, he blamed the gun lobby. "It's disappointing that two elected officials were undermined by the shadowy maneuvers of the corporate gun lobby and a handful of extremists," he said.

The gun debate expands far beyond Colorado.

Missouri's major gun legislation has seen both victory and defeat. The Republican-led legislature passed a bill that would outlaw the enforcement of federal gun laws, which are more stringent than state laws. The Democratic governor, however, vetoed the bill. Lawmakers might try to override the veto as early as today.

Advocates on both sides of the issue said there are no other recall efforts, however.

CNN contributor Paul Begala said the Colorado recall has national implications.

"If people wonder why it's so hard to persuade politicians to take tough stands, they need look no further than Colorado," he said.

It could have national implications. After the mass shootings, President Barack Obama urged Congress to pass more stringent restrictions on gun ownership.

But a massive campaign ensued and Congress was unable to pass even the most watered down measure requiring universal background checks.

"The recalls in Colorado do real damage to the cause of passing the president's gun safety proposals," Begala added.

There are no current plans to revive the issue in Washington.

CNN Political Editor Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

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