Leaders of a national advocacy group that hoped 25,000 people would come to a sit-in at the Colorado Capitol this week to protest gun violence and demand a gun ban said they were disappointed that more people didn’t show up. But they were still confident in the message behind their movement.
People from across the U.S. and from other countries had plans to line the statehouse lawn from Monday through Thursday hoping their peaceful civil action would lead to radical change in firearms policies.
Here 4 The Kids organizers said participants would remain on the Capitol grounds for at least four days or until Gov. Jared Polis answered their demands by signing an executive order banning guns and creating a statewide buyback program. Polis did not sign the order and few protesters showed up after Monday. By Thursday afternoon, there was no one demonstrating outside the Capitol.
“We were all a bit disappointed,” Here 4 The Kids co-founder Saira Rao said Thursday evening. “But we got several thousand extremely dedicated, lovely, joyful, peaceful women who are in this for the long haul … It would have been great if 25,000 women showed up, but we’ve got a fantastic start and we’re going to keep going. Our kids are worth more than one event or one action.”
Here 4 The Kids sent letters to all 24 Democratic governors, demanding an executive order banning guns in their states and asking for the creation of a buyback program.
On Thursday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, proposed a 28th Amendment that would add gun safety measures to the U.S. Constitution, including universal background checks, raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, instituting a firearm purchase waiting period and barring the civilian purchase of assault weapons.
“We have been saying for months that we want a 28th Amendment,” Rao said. “Two months ago we were told we were crazy and that never would happen.”
Rao said this fall Here 4 The Kids plans to organize another event similar to the Denver sit-in, but in another state. “We will base it on what we have learned this past week, what worked and what didn’t work, and we will keep going until we get the Second Amendment repealed.”
Erika Righter, a Denver-based organizer for Here 4 The Kids said she and other organizers remained inside the Capitol for safety but that it was amazing to see text messages and videos from the in-person event flow in.
“I feel incredibly proud of what we were able to do. I know it has opened up conversations that have not been had with people who were afraid to have them,” she said Thursday night.
“What I saw and what I heard was people fully in agreement that we have the ability and the opportunity to change this,” she said. “The number of shootings and deaths by gun violence that happened while we were just organizing is horrific. And we’ve hit the tipping point where we can no longer pretend that it doesn’t touch all of us.”
Dana Bryson, one of the 500 to 800 people the Colorado State Patrol estimated attended the sit-in on Monday, called the protest a concrete step that she could take to help raise awareness about ending gun violence.
She graduated from East High School, which was rocked this spring by two shootings, one that left a student dead and the other in which two faculty members were wounded by a student. She said she worries about her kids who attend Denver Public Schools and are terrified of shootings happening while they’re learning.
The state patrol, which manages security on the Capitol grounds, did not immediately respond to a request for a count of attendees who sat-in Tuesday through Thursday, but people passing by the statehouse said only a few people were protesting Tuesday and Wednesday. There were no demonstrators outside the Capitol as of midday Thursday
“I understand there was a very low turnout the second and third day,” Bryson said Thursday afternoon. “It’s a new organization and they’re probably learning the ropes and I don’t know what connection they had, if any, to the policy staff at the governor’s office. I didn’t get the sense that there was a connection there and I feel like that would have been a really strong thing to do and maybe they did.”
Polis’ office said it had offered to meet with lawyers working with Here 4 The Kids’, but the offer was declined.
Though Polis’ office said the governor “shares the concerns about improving public safety, including reducing gun violence,” he said multiple times he would not sign an order that would violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and would likely be struck down in court.
Bryson said she did not support Here 4 The Kids’ demand that Polis sign an unconstitutional order, saying it was a poor tactic to encourage advocacy. However, she said, that did not lessen her commitment to the cause of reducing gun violence.
Missy Espinoza, who lives in Thornton, said she believes she was the only counterprotester who showed up to the sit-in. She attended hoping to offer gun safety training and a brief education about the history of firearms to the people there.
“What they’re asking for — not only is it illegal because it’s unconstitutional to ban firearms and to disregard the Second Amendment rights of the people of this country and of our state — but also it’s misguided in the way that they’re presenting it,” she said Thursday. “So that’s why I was there — to have that conversation with them and offer them training.”
Espinoza said her family is from Mexico, where here are some of the strictest gun laws in the world, but in her lifetime she has seen criminal groups gain power there by using money from drug sales to arm themselves, while civilians with fewer financial resources have been unable to arm themselves in the same way.
She grew up in east Los Angeles where gun violence was common and said firearms have saved her life twice.
“We need to look at this realistically. Let’s acknowledge the fact that these firearms are already in circulation and they’re in circulation legally by firearm owners that bought them legally and have not used them to commit crimes,” Espinoza said. “They’re not going to disappear.”
Efforts to reduce gun violence should instead focus on gun safety education and increasing security at schools, she said.
Sit-in participants said demanding the impossible can help make the point.
The organizers, some of whom are advocating that the Second Amendment be repealed, said civil acts of disobedience spurred the adoption of laws that seemed impossible, such as the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was spurred by the marches from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Here 4 The Kids sent letters to all 24 Democratic governors demanding that each of them enact a gun ban and create weapon buyback programs in their states.
The version sent to Polis cited grim statistics. From 1999 to 2019, the Denver metro area had the third-most mass shootings per capita, and more school shootings per 1 million people than any other large metro area in the U.S. Gun deaths among teens and children rose 50% from 2019 to 2021, the year Colorado recorded its highest firearm-related death rate in at least 40 years.