The Gun Lobby Strikes Back

Women legislators in Colorado face a barrage of attacks for supporting gun safety laws.

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In this March 13, 2013 photo, Colorado State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, speaks at a podium during a debate inside the Colorado State Legislature, in Denver. The personal experiences of Fields, whose son was murdered in 2005, and other lawmakers, play a role in their thinking as the legislature debates this year whether to abolish the death penalty in Colorado, with stories from lawmakers interwoven into the debate.

DENVER  - The NRA's never-ending political revenge cycle started anew on Friday when gun proponents announced a second attempt to recall Colorado State Sen. Evie Hudak of Arvada, less than six months after their first attempt failed. This is not surprising. I've been in politics twenty years, worked for two women senators and a congresswoman, and the vitriol directed at Sen. Hudak, Rep. Rhonda Fields,and the Colorado legislative women over the new gun safety laws was the worst I've ever seen.

Colorado has the highest percentage of women in a state legislature nationally, and with four major gun safety bills sponsored by women, the efforts struck a deeply misogynist nerve among gun proponents. One of the most vocal opponents of the legislation, Dudley Brown's Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, is known for thuggish tactics against women legislators in both parties. As former Republican legislator BJ Nikkel put it in the Denver Post, "He and his 'gang' operate as political terrorists."

Like many women who speak out and act against gun violence and injustice, women legislators subsequently received a barrage of attacks including threats of sexual violence. A number merited referral to state and federal law enforcement. A sampling:

[See a collection of political cartoons on gun control and gun rights.]

"…my prayers won't be answered because you are way to (sic) fat and ugly for anyone to rape. You are a pig. I don't just mean the way you look either."

"…You are an inconsiderate bitch and I hope you get raped at gunpoint then I'm sure you'd want a gun as well."

"…You should buy a gun and kill yourself you disgusting, ugly, fat piece of sh*t."

Two people were arrested for death threats against legislators, and many members requested police protection. Fields' own son, Javad Marshall Fields, was shot to death in 2005, and, like Rep Carolyn McCarthy, she got into public service on a platform of stopping gun violence. Her reward for protecting the rest of us was to have a squad car parked in front of her house for the duration of the session.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

Here's what every advocate fighting violence against women knows: guns are a deadly threat to women. Among more than two dozen high-income countries in the world, 85 percent of all the women killed by firearms are U.S. women. Nine women each week are shot to death by their husband or intimate partner. The presence of a gun is the single highest risk factor for turning domestic abuse into domestic homicide. This why the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence testified in support of the gun safety legislation, including Hudak's bill making it harder for domestic abusers to keep a weapon.

Telling women to be afraid and buy guns is an indicator of financial desperation because gun manufacturers are scrambling to find new markets with women - and anyone else. Gun ownership overall is declining sharply, to less than a third of American households overall and less than a quarter for households under 30. According to the New York Times, "The share of American households with guns has declined over the past four decades, a national survey shows, with some of the most surprising drops in the South and the Western mountain states … Household gun ownership among Americans under the age of 30 fell to 23 percent this decade."

So with their markets declining and public support for gun safety laws increasing, gun proponents are turning to revenge and intimidation against public officials, especially women public officials. And poisoning our public discourse along the way.

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  • Corrected 10/07/13: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified which representative ran on a platform of stopping gun violence. It was Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, D-N.Y.