Failed recall

Representative government once again vindicated by the effort’s outcome

From its start, the recall effort against Rep. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, was reactionary and disorganized. A small group of gun-rights puritans targeted the lawmaker for his votes in favor of a series of reasonable measures that aim to counter gun violence in Colorado and launched a hastily drawn recall campaign. Their rationale for removing McLachlan from office was that he lied during his campaign when he said he supports Second Amendment rights. That was a shaky premise for justifying such drastic means. Voters in the 59th District rightly agreed.

McLachlan’s campaign rhetoric about gun rights was broad and, as such, is useful in illustrating the complexity of the arguments surrounding the issue. His campaign website says: “Mike supports the Second Amendment and the rights of all gun owners.” This position, as interpreted by those who see any gun-control legislation whatsoever – including that which bans gun possession among minors or felons, for instance – as an infringement of a hallowed constitutional right, was violated when McLachlan supported the measures passed by the Colorado Legislature this spring. Those bills, which limit the magazine capacity of guns to 15 rounds, require universal background checks – to be paid for by the purchaser – on virtually all gun purchases and mandate in-person training before gun owners can obtain a concealed-carry permit, represent a reasoned and balanced approach to curtailing gun violence. None will solve the problem completely, but without levying undue infringements on gun owners’ rights, the measures have the potential to curb a devastating trend in Colorado and across the country.

Most important for the recall effort, though, is the fact that none runs afoul of the Second Amendment of the Constitution. Despite a long-held commitment to that amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms – affirmed for individuals by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2008 decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller – the United States has an equally long track record of balancing that right with some limits. That is true for all of the Bill of Rights. None is without any infringement whatsoever, nor should it be.

By that measure, McLachlan’s votes on the Legislature’s gun measures do not run afoul of his claim on the campaign trail to be a supporter of Second Amendment rights. Instead, they reflect his recognition that there is a balance to be struck between freedom and responsibility, and the bills passed at the Capitol passed that test. While that position certainly is something with which many of McLachlan’s constituents have the unfettered right to disagree, it is not one that meets the test of dishonesty, nor the bar deliberately set high for recall efforts to proceed to a vote. With just 8,500 unverified signatures, the organizers were a far distance from the 10,587 needed to put the issue on the ballot. That gap says much about how voters, in general, perceive the legislative process, if not McLachlan’s actions within it.

Interpreting the Second Amendment – and that of all the amendments as well as the Constitution itself – is the ongoing business of the Supreme Court, which consistently has found that there are bounds to the protections offered in the seminal document and its appendices. Attempting to remove an elected official from office for not holding a fundamentalist view of the Second Amendment or any of its cohorts was shortsighted, and overlooked the nuances of lawmaking: namely that representative government necessarily requires legislators to consider input from wide-ranging sources, including their own beliefs and the issues of the day, and make the best decision they can. In this case, McLachlan did that and the failed attempt to remove him from office shows the system worked.