Guest Columns

TOLTZ: PUBLIC SAFETY AND LIVES ARE AT STAKE

Question: Will we let bullies with guns intimidate us into acquiescence or silence?

The Colorado Statesman

What will Coloradans do now? On this appropriately gray, rainy day political leaders and public safety citizen activists are pondering what to do in the wake of last week’s recalls of two Democratic state senators, solely due to their votes to make Colorado safer from gun violence. Will bullies with guns intimidate us into acquiescence or silence? Will Democratic state legislators back away from the gun safety bills they passed just a few months ago? These are the political questions, but public safety and lives are at stake with the answers.

How quickly people put aside the feelings of horror and revulsion after tragedy strikes. In Colorado, close to home, violent deaths and injuries have typically been caused by people, formerly “law-abiding” people, armed with a gun. In Colorado Springs as the recall votes were taking place, a man was arrested for killing his estranged pregnant wife with a handgun. Also that day, near Boulder a young man was in jail for killing his girlfriend by firing his gun through a closet door because he suspected she was a burglar.

Sadly, these are nearly daily occurrences that don’t merit the media coverage that mass shootings receive. They don’t merit the visits by Presidents or Vice Presidents, public rallies or demonstrations or blue ribbon panels to make public safety recommendations.

However, thousands of average Colorado citizens became determined and committed to public safety of schoolchildren after the 1999 gun deaths at Littleton’s Columbine High School. We came together, Republicans and Democrats to pass Amendment 22, with 70 percent of the statewide vote, to mandate background checks for all purchasers at gun shows.

This year, a number of state legislators introduced and championed gun safety legislation, again in the wake of gun deaths, caused by a previously “law abiding” citizen at Aurora’s Century movie theater. New grassroots activists took to Facebook and found each other, determined that horrific gun deaths should not be visited upon more Colorado families in the months and years to come. They beseeched our state legislators to do more in addressing murderous gun violence.

Yet a small, vocal, determined minority of people who seem to love guns more than they value the lives and safety of their neighbors, descended upon the State Capitol wielding aggression, intimidation and even threats, now realized, to remove legislators who wouldn’t submit or roll over. Now they’ve succeeded in removing two state senators and proudly tout the “wave of fear” their recall efforts will engender in politicians in Colorado and beyond.

By the way, this is not a Constitutional question or issue. This is a life or death issue. The intimidation tactics are fear-based and divisive. Those who practice these tactics seek to allow more guns to be wielded by more people in more places. Church, schools, Starbucks are all places for weapons to proliferate if the fringe ideological minority has their way. And of course, no amount of deadly firepower is too much, AK47s with 100 round magazines? Why not? Concealed weapons in college dorms and classrooms? Why not?

As a 3rd generation Coloradan, I’m pretty sure this is neither the vision nor the image of Colorado the vast majority carry in their hearts. However, the question now is; what are we willing to do about it?

We can stand by, wring our hands or hide our heads in the sand and hope for the best. But as a very smart man once said, “Hope is not a strategy.” Addressing gun violence also means addressing the practitioners of political division and fear. The only way to do that is via our political process. Colorado, what will you do now?

Ken Toltz is a Colorado businessman and longtime political activist. He is a former candidate for Congress in the 6th Congressional District. He is the founder of Safe Campus Colorado.