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Denver • Two Democratic state lawmakers who backed tighter gun laws in the aftermath of mass shootings have been kicked out of office in a recall election promoted by both grassroots activists and the National Rifle Association.
Senate President John Morse lost by just 343 votes Tuesday in a swing district in the Republican stronghold of Colorado Springs but Sen. Angela Giron lost by a bigger margin in a largely blue-collar district that favors Democrats.
The NRA said the election sent a clear message to lawmakers that they should protect gun rights and be accountable to their constituents, not to "anti-gun billionaires" a swipe against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who supported Giron and Morse.
Democrats will still maintain control of the state Legislature and the laws are expected to remain in place.
"The loss of this Senate seat is purely symbolic," Morse said.
But Republicans hope to build on the wins in next year's elections, when they'll try to unseat Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who signed the gun legislation.
"It's a shot across the bow to prove that Colorado isn't a colony of Michael Bloomberg or John Hickenlooper. We are a people who believe in personal freedom, including the constitutional right to keep and bear arms," potential Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Tancredo said Wednesday.
Hickenlooper, who kept a low profile during the campaign, said he was disappointed in the election's results.
"It's now time we refocus again on what unites Coloradans creating jobs, educating our children, creating a healthier state and on finding ways to keep Colorado moving forward," he said in a statement.
Angered by new limits on ammunition magazines and expanded background checks, gun-rights activists tried to recall four lawmakers but only succeeded in launching efforts against Morse and Giron. It was the first for state legislators since Colorado adopted the procedure in 1912.
The recalls were seen as the latest chapter in the national debate over gun rights and, for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions. But the vote also exposed divisions between the growing urban and suburban areas and more rural areas in a state where support for guns hasn't really been a partisan issue. Dozens of elected county sheriffs have sued to block the gun laws.
The debate was prodded by the mass shootings at an Aurora movie theater in July 2012 and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December. The new gun laws were major victories for Colorado Democrats, who rallied majorities in the House and Senate this spring to pass them without Republican support.
Both legislators voted for 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and for expanded background checks on private gun sales after the 2012 mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn.
Reported contributions to Morse and Giron totaled about $3 million, dwarfing the amount raised by gun activists who petitioned for the recall, though some independent groups didn't have to report spending. Both the NRA and Bloomberg contributed more than $300,000 to the pro- and anti-recall campaigns.