In hindsight, former Colorado Senate President John Morse confesses he has regrets about what happened in 2013.
That was the legislative session after the 2012 Aurora theater shooting that left 12 dead and 70 wounded. It was a few months after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., left 20 children and six adults dead.
That was the session when the legislature passed some modest gun safety legislation, including mandatory background checks for gun buyers and limits on the sale of high-capacity magazines.
It was after that session that John Morse was removed from office through a recall, all because of his leadership in getting those bills passed.
Now, as Colorado is burying 10 more victims of gun violence, Morse, a CPA, took time out from the busy tax season to talk about guns, which were standard equipment for him every single day during his many years in law enforcement.
His big regret? “I regret that we didn’t do more,” he said.
A ban on assault weapons wasn’t even considered then, he said. “At the time we felt it was a bridge too far.”
He believes that was mistake. “As long as we have military-style weapons on our streets, we are going to continue to bury our children.”
Another bill that would have held gun manufacturers and sellers liable when their products were used to commit crimes didn’t make it through the process.
“I regret that bill didn’t become law.” Those who profit from murder “should all be on the hook,” Morse said.
But let’s get real. With hundreds of millions of guns already circulating in the U.S., what difference did the 2013 legislation make?
A lot, Morse said, though it’s always hard to count the murders that are prevented.
“Take background checks,” he said. “Over 10,000 people failed their background checks in Colorado since that law was enacted. That’s 10,000 gun sales that were stopped. Who knows how many shootings were prevented by that alone?”
As for the limits on high-capacity magazines, Morse is unapologetic.
If a shooter has only 15 rounds, “it forces him to reload, which gives potential victims an opportunity to escape or overpower him.” It saves lives.
“We knew what we were doing would have a big impact. We needed to do even more.”
During the debates on the Senate floor in 2013, Morse said, “the Republicans were apoplectic. They said everything we were doing was unconstitutional. But these laws have been tested in court and flew through with flying colors.
“You don’t have to violate the Constitution to pass common-sense gun laws.”
But, Morse said, it’s not enough for Colorado to enact gun-safety legislation on its own. As long as people can drive to Wyoming to buy military-style weapons, the bloodbath of murders and mass shootings for which the state has become sickeningly famous will continue.
“This problem is imminently solvable,” he said. “We need a nationwide ban on assault weapons.
“This is a choice that we make. Our leaders believe that Americans would rather bury our children that get rid of these guns. I reject that argument.”
People think statistically the risk is low. They comfort themselves thinking, “It’s not going to be my child.”
But after spending 27 years as a paramedic and a cop, Morse wants you to know something: “These are not weird statistics.
“Gun violence is not uncommon. It happens all the time and even if it’s not your child, it’s someone’s child. Killing people with military-style assault weapons happens every day.”
Yeah, but what about self-defense? Isn’t the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun a good guy with a gun?
That’s pure fantasy, he said.
“As we speak right now, traffic is being diverted for the procession to honor another fallen police officer, a good guy with a gun.”
Morse knows the danger intimately.
The average police shooting occurs within six to eight feet of the target, he said, and the highly trained cops, who have well-maintained firearms and are required to hone their skills regularly at shooting ranges, hit their target roughly 30% of the time.
“The best way to stop gun violence is to keep the guns away from the bad guys,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s the luck of the draw and all too often the good guy ends up dead.”
So, what about Lauren Boebert, who was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Colorado on a one-note platform supporting the right to own guns, lots of guns, especially military-style assault weapons? What does that say about where we are in this debate?
“What Lauren Boebert represents is the common, accepted recognition among gun activists that we’re simply going to have to continue to bury more children,” Morse said. “That’s not OK.”
What she’ll never tell you is it could have been you in King Soopers that day. It could have happened in your King Soopers or in your church, your nightclub, your spa, your kids’ school.
“When it’s this easy to get a gun that can kill 10 people in 2 minutes and 20 seconds … letting that guy have access to that kind of firepower is just foolish and the rest of the world knows it’s foolish.”
And while Boebert is definitely on the cultural fringe, she’s no more to blame for our failure to address gun violence than the rest of the political leadership in the country.
“Politicians generally are interested in their political careers, not the public service they actually signed up for,” Morse said. “It’s why Americans are so sick of politicians. They do the most self-interested things.”
Polls have consistently shown overwhelming support for universal background checks, limits on the sale of high-capacity magazines and a ban on sales of military-style assault weapons. Our leaders are ignoring their constituents.
“I look at this and think, ‘How can this be a hard vote?’ Saving lives is the easiest possible vote for me,” Morse said.
As he prepares to return to the tedious tax forms, the first legislator in Colorado history to be recalled and removed from office took stock.
“I’m very comfortable with what my political career turned out to be. It ended a year before anticipated and in an uncomfortable way, but I couldn’t be prouder.
“If getting recalled was the price I had to pay for sensible gun laws to be enacted, I would do it all over and over again.”
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.
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