The debate about a suite of gun-control legislation in various stages of the legislative process in Denver has been unsurprisingly emotional. The notion of any checks on what some perceive as a God-given right to possess any and all weapons is as offensive to those people as the notion of unfettered access to those same weapons – and the violence they can unfurl when used improperly – is to those who support gun control.
Common ground between those two entrenched poles is not easy to find, and lawmakers who dare support any form of gun control risk a great political price, particularly in divided districts such as Colorado’s 59th. Rep. Mike McLachlan is learning that all too quickly in his first term.
Because of his support for measures limiting magazine capacity to 15 rounds, requiring universal background checks for virtually all gun sales and a user fee for those checks, and prohibiting concealed guns on public college campuses in Colorado, McLachlan has been widely pilloried by gun advocates who accuse him of reneging on a campaign promise, compromising the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and bowing to pressure from the likes of Vice President Joe Biden and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. For those sins, McLachlan now faces a recall effort. He should not.
American democracy has built in many checkpoints to root out incompetence and lawmakers with whom voters either disagree or have grown tired. Primary among these tools is the election process itself, which arrives biannually for many lawmakers, including McLachlan.
That brief cycle subjects legislators to voter scrutiny and requires that they prove their mettle or move on to new endeavors. Barring major demonstrations of incompetence or illegal behavior, then, elected officials should be managed by that election cycle.
It is wholly inappropriate to recall McLachlan for holding – and voting according to – a position that some of his constituents abhor. He was not elected to take marching orders from any one segment of his electorate, but to represent a far-flung district, comprising residents of widely dispersed political beliefs. Doing so virtually guarantees that any legislator in the 59th District – or many others across Colorado and the West, for that matter – will infuriate half of his constituents at any given time. That is too bad, perhaps, but it is the name of the game in representative government.
Those upset with McLachlan’s position on gun control are right to voice that displeasure, and if it sustains, to challenge him in his 2014 re-election bid, should he make one. Attempting to recall him, though, is far too extreme a response.
McLachlan has not behaved inappropriately, illegally, immorally or even incompetently. His votes, on the gun measures and all legislation thus far in the session, have been clearly explained and appear to have resulted from a thorough consideration of input as well as his own values. That is good decision-making, like it or not.
Nothing in the process comes anywhere close to suggesting that McLachlan is not fit for the office he holds. That some people with firmly held beliefs disagree with his is the expected byproduct of difficult decisions. It is what makes for a lively citizenry engaged in the electoral process. It should not prompt an attempt to bypass that process.
Doing so is counterproductive to good legislative process; if the recall effort is successful, McLachlan’s replacement would serve one year of his term and then face his or her own re-election campaign. Those interested in seeing McLachlan go would better spend their efforts on a longer game.