Movement calling for governors to ban all guns starts at Colorado Capitol

Tribune Content Agency

DENVER — Demonstrators from across the country began gathering on Monday outside the Colorado Capitol as part of a sit-in protest, calling on Gov. Jared Polis to ban all guns in a move that the governor and supporters alike agree is unconstitutional.

Roughly 2,000 people were sprawled across the Capitol lawn in chairs and on blankets by early Monday afternoon. Their numbers had grown since the protest began early that morning. Many carried signs calling for Polis and policymakers to “choose kids over guns” and to “save a 2nd grader, repeal the 2nd amendment.” Some handed out water and granola bars from wagons.

Caitlin Graham, a New York native who recently moved to Colorado from the Netherlands, sat with her mother and held a sign that included a drawing from her own daughter.

“It’s just crazy how this is a regular, every day occurrence,” Caitlin Graham said of mass shootings in America.

The protest was organized the newly formed Here4TheKids organization, a national group founded by two women of color who have called for only white women to participate in the first protest set for Colorado. They’ve asked people of color and those with disabilities to instead participate in a remote campaign.

Most of the protesters who arrived Monday were white women, though some men were also in attendance.

“While acknowledging everyone’s agency, Here4TheKids respectfully asks white women to put their bodies on the ground, as marginalized communities have always done and continue to do,” the group said in a statement. “Historically, white women are least likely to be brutalized by the police. Their multiple intersections of privilege and power support the movement, as they participate in an act of civil disobedience, occupy physical space and demand change.”

They are calling on Polis — and, later, other governors — to sign an executive order to ban all guns and implement a statewide buyback program. Jo Fenster and Emily Schlicter both sat on the Capitol lawns with signs calling on Polis to “ban guns and buy them back.”

“I don’t think we should be a society that revolves around harming each other over and over again,” Schlicter said, adding that she supported disarming law enforcement, too.

But it’s not something Polis appears to believe is reasonable, according to a statement from the governor’s office. Polis instead cited legislation he signed this year toward addressing gun safety. Lawmakers this year passed — and Polis signed — five bills intended to blunt gun violence. They include an expansion of the state’s red-flag law; a three-day minimum waiting period to obtain firearms; regulations around so-called “ghost guns”; and raising the age to purchase firearms to 21. Another new law also makes it easier to sue gun manufacturers and dealers.

Ahead of Monday’s protest, staff from the governor’s office met with organizers and “expressed concerns that the requests being made are either unconstitutional or require legislative action,” his office said.

“The Governor takes the weighty responsibility of executive action and the trust Coloradans placed in him to govern responsibly seriously, and will not issue an unconstitutional order that will be struck down in court simply to make a public relations statement — he will continue to focus on real solutions to help make Colorado one of the ten safest states,” according to the statement. “These individuals’ calls to improve safety and prevent gun violence through their specific requests for an executive order banning all guns would simply be unconstitutional.”

Saira Rao, one of the movement’s founders who lived in Denver for nine years before moving to Virginia, is a former lawyer who has a background in constitutional law. She acknowledged that what they’re asking Polis to do is unconstitutional, but she also said this is by design.

“This executive order is in direct violation of the Second Amendment,” Rao told The Denver Post on Friday. “And this is the first step in a journey towards repealing the Second Amendment.”

With 27 amendments to the Constitution, Rao said they want the repeal of the right to bear arms to be the 28th.

Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who’s worked on several gun reform bills during her time in the legislature, said Monday she was glad the group was out protesting, even if Polis was unlikely to issue the executive order they sought.

“I’m glad to see the continued focus and attention on keeping our kids and our community safe,” she said. “So it’s good to see that it’s not just something that we’re doing down at the state Capitol with trying to come up with legislation to save lives, that there is also public interest to support all the work that we’ve already done. I’m excited that they’re voicing their support of measures to make sure that every person in our state is safe in all places.”

Still, she has questioned the group’s demands. Fields and Sen. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat and fellow leader in gun reform legislation, wrote in a Denver Post editorial that an “executive order to ban all guns and instituting mandatory buyback programs” was unconstitutional. The demand diminished “decades of work by policymakers and activists who have labored tirelessly to stop gun deaths and could undermine and demoralize those efforts going forward,” the two senators wrote.

Sullivan said early Monday afternoon that he appreciated the protestors’ perspective.

“But I think the ask is more than what the governor has the ability to do,” he said, “and I think we’re moving forward here in the state. We have been certainly for the five years I’ve been in office.”

Graham, the mother who recently moved from the Netherlands, said she was skeptical Polis would ban all guns. But she at least wanted a ban on assault weapons (legislators defeated a bill to ban the purchase or sale of weapons like the AR-15 earlier this year).

“A total ban would be ideal, but much firmer restrictions on regular guns beyond just assault weapons too” would be preferable,” Graham said.

The group hoped to gather 25,000 women from across the country to participate in the sit in, which began at 5 a.m. Monday and will continue each day until 8 p.m. “as long as it takes for Polis to sign an executive order,” according to Rao.

“How long are people willing to sit for their kids’ lives? The answer is FOREVER,” Rao wrote in a text message.

Here4theKids declared the first four days of the protest in honor of the march from Selma to Montgomery, which took four days and led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Fields, whose living room window was smashed by a bullet in February, said she supported any person of any race who wanted to advocate to end gun violence.

“Black women, white women, Asian women, Indigenous women, fathers, uncles, cousins and on and on,” she said. “We all need to be outraged at the level of violence we’re seeing take place across our nation.”

Erik Hopkins and his father Tim were among the handful of men at Monday’s protest. Erik Hopkins, who’s from Washington, D.C. and whose sister helped organize the event, said he couldn’t think of why guns are necessary outside of war zones.

“We don’t need them,” he said.

The sit-in comes after tense gun debates during this year’s legislative session, which ended in early May. Democrats, secure in their historic majorities in the Capitol, are planning to pass a series of gun-related bills each year, legislators say, in a coordinated approach to addressing gun violence. They were largely successful in passing those measures this year, prompting Republicans to launch hours-long filibusters, warn of civil war and file lawsuits.

The debates also sowed intraparty frustration. While the Democratic majorities passed five bills to curtail gun violence, they also killed another proposal to ban the sale or purchase of assault weapons. That measure had divided even Democratic lawmakers, some of whom opposed it for ideological or strategic reasons. The bill’s defeat at the hands of a Democrat-controlled committee fueled further internal division that simmered for the rest of the legislative session.

Meanwhile, students repeatedly descended upon the Capitol to demand more action by lawmakers in the wake of two shootings at Denver East High School. Polis spoke briefly with students at one point and touted the bills passed. But students urged him to do more. One teenager was also dragged from the House’s upstairs gallery after another protesting student shouted at the lawmakers working below.