Gun advocates take aim at California recalls

After winning efforts to oust two anti-gun Colorado politicians, activists adopt low-key Golden State approach

Tim Knight, left, who was involved in a Colorado recall against two state legislators for their votes on gun control, and California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, announcing in October that they are considering a recall campaign against five California state lawmakers.
Rich Pedroncelli/AP

LOS ANGELES — When two Democratic legislators who had voted for a strict gun control law were booted in September in the first recall election in Colorado, the gun lobby was fired up. It had succeeded in countering the rising tide of anti-gun sentiment after the Aurora, Colo., theater mass shooting and other high-profile gun tragedies across the United States.

Less than two months later, some of the same people behind the Colorado effort were in California, announcing with much fanfare that they were next targeting five of that state's Democratic legislators in a recall campaign.

It was a bold move, considering that the nation’s most populous state has the toughest gun laws in the nation, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

On the Facebook page for “Free California,’’ a group formed by Republican political consultant Jennifer Kerns, who led the Colorado effort, is this posting touting the organization's campaign: "First, Colorado. Next stop, California? Free California is a new 501(c)4 for the 2nd Amendment & holding Elected Officials accountable for their votes."

That was in October. Now the prospective recall campaign in a state that is overwhelmingly Democratic — every state office, from the governor on down, and both houses of the Legislature are controlled by Democrats — is more low-key.

'Tried to tamp this down'

Neither gun control nor gun rights advocates are eager to discuss guns or recall, despite continuing controversy on both sides over Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of 11 gun control bills in early October — while he vetoed a ban on semiautomatic weapons, which would have been the stiffest restriction in the U.S.

In an email, Kerns told Al Jazeera that the group still intended to launch a recall effort but was treading carefully. “The seats up for potential recall are under review. The coalition of people interested in recalling some legislators is being thoughtful about which legislators are vulnerable. We'll have an update in the next couple of weeks.”

Brown, who is 75 and may not run again, is not a target of the recall, which is spearheaded by Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, a Republican from Twin Peaks, Calif., who is making a bid for governor.

Kerns is a long-time conservative operative. She headed the Proposition 8 effort to outlaw same-sex marriage, which was approved by voters but later overturned. She is with Donnelly’s gubernatorial campaign.

When they announced their push to recall gun control supporters, their targets included Assembly Speaker John Perez.

But Democrats seem somewhat sanguine about their prospects for a recall battle in the Golden State.

“I don’t think that there’s a whole lot of concern,” said California Democratic political consultant Roger Salazar. “My sense is that powers that be in the Republican Party have tried to tamp this down.”

The recall effort could backfire, he said, because campaign finance limits are lifted when a candidate is the subject of a recall, which would allow the legislators to build up their war chests.

But Salazar said Democrats and gun control advocates don’t want to talk about the recall effort because “they may not want to give it any more legitimacy."

It doesn’t help that the five legislators targeted are all Hispanic, he said, calling the recall battle “a huge mistake.”

Whether the recall gains momentum remains to be seen. A February poll by the Field Research Corp. shows that California voters think it is more important, by 61 percent to 34 percent, to impose greater controls on gun ownership than to protect Americans' gun-owning rights.

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