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Colorado, scene of the deadly mass shootings in Columbine and Aurora, was, this week, the latest battleground in the debate over gun rights. In a special recall election, pro-gun interests ousted two Democratic state senators, punishment for their support of new gun control laws the state passed earlier this year. The election was notable because of the presence and money of outside groups. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg contributed $350,000 to help the embattled senators.
NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports on the lessons of the Colorado recall.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: The two incumbent senators had plenty of money in this race. TV ads on their behalf dominated local television. Statewide polls show the Colorado gun laws, which require background checks and limit the size of ammunition magazines, to be popular. One of the senators, Angela Giron, was in a solidly Democratic district. The other, John Morse, was in a swing district. He was seen as being more at risk, but they weren't both expected to lose. Dudley Brown is head of the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
DUDLEY BROWN: These two state senators were retired by a vote of the people. And this was just a down payment for the 2014 elections because we're going to do this to every one of these people who voted against our right to keep and bear arms.
GONYEA: Brown says they welcomed the fact that gun control groups from around the country came to the state to try to defeat the recall. Much of what his and other pro-gun groups, including the National Rifle Association, did in this race was of a grassroots nature, reaching out directly through social media, local meetings and email to their very motivated supporters. But they also produced ads. Here's one targeting Senator Morse.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He'd rather do the bidding of East Coast liberals like billionaire playboy, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
GONYEA: Dudley Brown says it was a pleasure having Michael Bloomberg backing the other side.
BROWN: We made very clear that when you take his money you take his whole agenda, including banning Big Gulps and government regulation of salty foods and the whole nanny state pile of it.
GONYEA: Now, this was just a special election, turnout was low, which worked to the advantage of the gun rights groups because they are a group highly motivated to turn out. Michael Dimock of Pew Research says national polling quantifies just how much more intensity core pro-gun voters have.
MICHAEL DIMOCK: The folks who said protecting gun rights were four times as likely to say they've contributed money on the issue. They were more likely to say that they would never vote for a candidate who disagrees with them on this. 41 percent of gun rights supporters say this is a black-and-white issue for them.
GONYEA: Dimock says a pattern has developed. After a shooting like the one in Aurora or Newtown, public support for tough gun laws grows, but it then subsides in a matter of months. Gun control groups are disappointed but say the Colorado vote is not representative of public attitudes on the issue. Dan Gross of the Brady Center to End Gun Violence says it's important to remember that the new Colorado gun laws are still on the books. But he also acknowledges an enthusiasm gap.
DAN GROSS: This isn't for us a question of winning hearts and minds. It's a question of creating enough intensity to make sure that that will is reflected in terms of holding our elected leaders accountable, and in terms of ultimately making this the safer nation that we all want.
GONYEA: The need to increase voter intensity is an easy thing to identify, perhaps not so easy to fix. And 2014 will no doubt provide more tests. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.
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