DENVER – In the wake of mass shootings last year in Aurora and Newtown, Democratic lawmakers in Colorado and the nation’s capital called for the enactment of far-reaching gun control laws at both the state and federal level. In recent weeks, however, that has begun to change.
High-profile Democrats in Washington, DC now appear to backing away from the volatile issue, while their counterparts in Colorado have decided to push for new curbs on gun rights.
In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) seemed to signal that he was open to some of the aggressive gun restrictions put forward by other Democrats.
“We need to accept the reality that we are not doing enough to protect our citizens,” Reid said after the shootings.
At the time, an aide to the Nevada Democrat added that Reid — long viewed as a supporter of gun rights — was “in a different place than he was in 2010.”
But public fervor on the issue has died down in the weeks and months since the shootings, and Democrats like Reid seem to be hedging again, this time in response to pressure from those on the other side of the contentious debate.
“In the Senate, we’re going to do what we think can get through the House and I’m not going to go through a bunch of these gyrations just to say we’ve done something,” said Reid, sounding far less ambitious in a recent Nevada PBS interview.
President Clinton has also urged caution in recent days, warning a group of key group of Democratic Party donors not to underestimate the political muscle or intensity of the nation’s estimated 70 to 80 million gun owners.
“Do not patronize the passionate supporters of your opponents by looking down your nose at them,” Clinton told the donors last month according to Politico. “A lot of these people live in a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these [gun control bills]. I know because I come from this world.”
“All these polls that you see saying the public is for us on all these [gun control] issues — they are meaningless if they’re not voting issues,” Clinton told the group, which included members of President Obama’s national finance committee.
But the cautionary approach of Clinton and Reid to the issue has drawn fire from others in the party who want to see a more uncompromising stand on gun control from Democrats.
“I respect [Harry Reid] on a whole lot of levels but he’s dancing around this issue and people are dying in this country,” said Minneapolis’ Democrat Mayor R.T. Rybak, who is also Vice-Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Rybak isn’t alone. In Colorado, House Speaker Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver) and Senate President John Morse (D-Colo. Springs) have decided to press ahead with several controversial gun control measures, including one that would subject gun manufacturers, retailers and even individual owners liable for damage caused by certain firearms – even if the gun in question was lost or sold.
The proposal, which conflicts with an established federal law barring such lawsuits, has been criticized by both Democrats and Republicans as excessive.
“This is the equivalent of holding Coors, the distributor and the 7-Eleven from which the 12-pack of beer was stolen responsible for the drunk-driving accident,” said State Senator Greg Brophy (R-Wray).
“That’s crazy. That’s absolutely nuts,” said State Rep. Ed Vigil (D-Fort Garland) of the idea.
While she didn’t speak directly to the Morse lawsuit proposal, State Senator Lois Tochtrop (D-Thornton) echoed Clinton’s warning that Democrats representing purple districts “have to be very careful to vote their district’s sentiment” on the gun issue.
“I think Clinton is right on for the state of Colorado,” Tochtrop said of the former president’s remarks. “There is a lot of hysteria on both sides. I think we have to be moderate on these issues.”
In addition to Morse’s controversial proposal, Colorado Democrats rolled out a number of measures this month designed to restrict gun rights, including a New York-style limit on high-capacity magazines, a weakening of the state’s concealed carry law, and a new tax on background checks for firearms sales.