Morse recall: The party-line politics of a gun-rights battle

John Morse.
Update to our update, July 18, 4:10 pm: In response to Judge Robert Hyatt's ruling, below, Governor John Hickenlooper has signed an executive order designating September, 10, 2013, as the date for the recall elections of state senators John Morse and Angela Giron. "We appreciate that the court acknowledged we did the right thing in waiting until after its ruling to set the date," Hickenlooper stated in a release announcing the order.

Read our earlier posts on the recall wrangle below.

Update, July 18, 2:33 pm: Denver Chief District Judge Robert Hyatt has ruled that the recall elections of state senators John Morse and Angela Giron can proceed. Despite challenges from the incumbents to the actual language of the recall petitions, Hyatt has found that the petitions (based on a template provided by the Secretary of State's office) are sufficient. While the decision could be appealed, Hyatt declared that the elections must be scheduled by mid-September.

Our original post follows below.

Original post, July 18, 10:04 am: Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt is expected to rule later today on whether an election date can be set in the recall campaign against state senators John Morse and Angela Giron. But whatever Hyatt decides, the complicated, lawyerly agendas on display in his crowded courtroom yesterday are proof that the political maneuvering and obsfuscation in this deeply partisan struggle over guns and legislative seats is just beginning to get really messy.

You not only need a scorecard, you need a squeegee to figure out what's going on here.

At its most basic level, the recall effort is about Morse and Giron facing the wrath of their constituents -- okay, a few thousand of their constituents in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, respectively, who happen to be staunch defenders of the Second Amendment -- for their support of the high-capacity magazine ban and other bits of Democrat-driven gun legislation this year. But this thing has more layers than a white-velvet-with-cannoli-cream wedding special on Cake Boss.

Angela Giron.
Much of the legal muscle on display yesterday came from the office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who would like to be governor in the not-too-distant future. Gessler's office has certified the recall petitions as legit, has no problem defending that decision against all comers, and has pushed for an election date to be set, lest the people's right to redress be compromised. Attorney Mark Grueskin, the go-to guy for groups fighting citizen initiatives, was on hand, too, to argue (on behalf of Morse and Giron supporters) that the petitions are fatally flawed because they don't contain specific language about "demand for an election of a successor" to the incumbent.

Also on hand was legal talent from the office of Governor John Hickenlooper, who's been oh-so-reluctant to set a date for a recall election of two fellow Democrats (including Senate president Morse) when there's so much muddle in the court about whether there will be an election at all. And an intervening attorney for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder (and former Republican county chairman) Wayne Williams, who wants to schedule Morse's recall in late August and is concerned that delaying the election will violate the constitutional right of the people to boot out unwholesome elements -- in contrast to Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz Jr., a Democrat, who testified that the Giron recall would cost his office at least $186,000 and would be a lot cheaper to fold into the general election in November, if it really must happen at all.


Absent in all this party-line posturing over the recall process was any serious discussion of the merits, if any, of the grievances that led to the Morse recall effort in the first place. (To some extent, Giron can be considered a collateral target; she was one of several legislators that gun-rights forces talked about recalling, but in her case a grass-roots group actually did the legwork and got the signatures.) The "Got Remorse" website lists several beefs against the Senate president, but his principal sin seems to be introducing Senate Bill 196, the "Assault Weapon Responsibility Act," which proposed to hold the manufacturer, seller and/or prior owner of said weapons liable for crimes committed with the weapon, on the theory that "the right to manufacture, sell, or own assault weapons must carry with it some of the responsibility for damage, injury, and death that results from the discharge of that weapon."

Morse killed SB 196 shortly after he introduced it. That prompted state senator Greg Brophy, another gubernatorial aspirant, to denounce the whole thing as a cynical ploy, intended to demonstrate that Democrats were willing to compromise and trying to be "moderate" in their approach to gun legislation.

Morse was also one of the sponsors of the high-capacity magazine ban -- a measure that, as Gun Guys author Dan Baum has pointed out, will do little to prevent mass shootings. Yet even that weak swing at the Second Amendment was rendered more toothless by the recent compromise reached in a lawsuit filed by 55 sheriffs and others challenging the ban, watering down the impact of the bill.

So what, exactly, did Morse do that has the opposition so steamed? He killed his own "radical" proposal and passed some feel-good legislation that accomplishes almost nothing. That should make for an interesting recall campaign. If a Colorado legislator can be dumped for doing almost nothing, then nobody's seat is safe.

Read more from Alan Prendergast: "Should Colorado's Make My Day law be expanded?"

Sponsor Content

My Voice Nation Help

What is also amusing is author's glossing over of what most admit are ineffective controls that really do take quite a unjustifiable bite out of a constitutionally protected right.  I would suspect the Westword community might have a different take on this issue if Republican legislators were facing a recall after passing anti-sodomy laws to control the spread of AIDS ("if it saves just one life...")..

When it comes to specifically enumerated, fundamental, natural rights, the standard is not proving that someone "needs" to exercise that right in a certain way.  To ban an exercise of such right (speech, association, self-incrimination, keep and bear arms) you must meet a strict scrutiny standard. One is not required to prove a need for a 30 round magazine to effectively defend themselves.  Rather, the burden is on the state to demonstrate 1) the prohibition on such magazines is effective in addressing a bonafide overarching public concern and 2) that there exists no less intrusive means of achieving a similar outcome.

On the first hurdle, one must prove that an overarching public concern exists.  You can't ban protest rallys because people tend to leave trash behind in the park or because you're concerned it might not remain peaceful.  In this case, the legislature passed several bills that clearly infringe on "the right of the people to keep and bear arms". The "if it saves just one life" justification doesn't meet the burden here when balanced against the lives saved in the defensive use of these weapons.  Even if it did, the second strict scrutiny hurdle would be fatal. You must show that it is the least invasive cure.

Colorado's lawmakers did virtually nothing to go after the mental illness component that underlies nearly all mass shootings.  There was little or no attempt at psychological screening or licensing.  They could have exempted concealed carry permit holders who have undergone a full CBI background and FBI NICS check, but did not.  They took no introspective look at how the Aurora shooter, who was under psychiatric care, slipped through the cracks when laws already on the books were not followed.  The truth is that the system does a very poor job of rooting out the James Holmes, Jared Loughners, and Adam Lanzas before they go on their rampages - even though most have had prior contact with the law and/or the mental health system.

Fixing THAT is where the mutually agreeable remedies lie. We won't get there with the unconstitutional remedies being shoved down our throats by the likes of Morse, Giron and the rest of the radical posse that runs the state house today.  The recalls are a step in fixing that.


Less than half of the Morse recall petition signers were Republican. Barely 51% of the Giron petition signers were Republican. I would not call that "partisan". I'm Libertarian, so It is amusing watching the issue of liberty trumping party affiliations.

DonkeyHotay topcommenter

@saw4fire "I'm Libertarian"

Fringe kook element that comprises less than 3% of the voters in national elections.


@DonkeyHotay @saw4fire 

Name calling does not change the facts. The petition signers were not dominated by either party, which puts the lie to the "it is partisan" argument.

Now Trending

Denver Concert Tickets

From the Vault