Hundreds of women staged a sit-in outside Colorado’s capitol on Monday, calling on the state’s Democratic governor to ban all guns, a move his office said “would simply be unconstitutional”.
The gun-ban protest included an estimated 1,000 people by late Monday morning, with some protesters joining from out of state, the Denver Post reported.
The sit-in was organized by two anti-racism activists, Tina Strawn, an author and podcaster, and Saira Rao, who made national headlines as one of the organizers of Race to Dinner, an effort to educate liberal white women about their racism over group dinners.
Here 4 the Kids, the group Strawn and Rao created earlier this year, argues that America’s gun rights culture is rooted in white supremacy and had asked that white women demonstrate in person in Denver, while calling on other supporters to protest remotely.
The demonstration had attracted advance support from Hollywood actors, with Chelsea Handler, Niecy Nash, Amanda Seales, Amy Schumer and others posting about the demonstration on Instagram, highlighting the fact that gun violence has become the leading cause of death for American children, and calling on white women to take immediate action.
But the protest sparked pushback from some longtime gun violence prevention activists in Colorado, who argued that advocacy for the “extreme” policy of banning all guns was counterproductive.
“This misguided approach will do more harm than good and create unrealistic expectations for a public hungry for meaningful reforms,” Rhonda Fields and Tom Sullivan, two Colorado state senators who lost children to gun violence, wrote in an opinion piece in the Denver Post on Monday.
Fields lost her son to gun violence in 2005 when he was killed before he was scheduled to testify in a murder trial. Sullivan’s son was killed in a 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
They wrote that Colorado has been making progress with targeted legislation designed to keep guns out of the hands of high-risk people, including a recent law banning gun sales to people under 21. But Fields and Sullivan said they feared that advocacy for more “extreme solutions” could “undermine and demoralize those efforts”.
The office of Jared Polis, the state’s Democratic governor, said in a statement that he supports Americans’ second amendment right to own guns, and pledged he “will not issue an unconstitutional order that will be swiftly struck down in court simply to make a public relations statement”.
The group behind Monday’s demonstration, Here 4 the Kids, launched in early April in the wake of another American school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, amassed more than 60,000 followers on Instagram in less than two months. The organization is calling on Polis, as well as other Democratic governors across the country, to sign executive orders that would create “a total ban on all guns and a comprehensive, mandatory buyback program”, without any exceptions, including guns for law enforcement use.
While American women have often used their identity as mothers to mobilize for gun control legislation, the call for an executive order to ban all guns “is something I can’t recall a precedent for”, said Robert Spitzer, an American political scientist who has written six books on gun policy.
The supreme court has repeatedly ruled since 2008 that the second amendment protects Americans’ individual right to own a gun for self-defense, and Colorado’s governor “does not have the power to ban guns generally”, Spitzer said, suggesting that the protest was “destined to be viewed as kind of a marginal non-serious moment in the effort to deal with America’s gun problems”.
Colorado gun rights activists had been dismissive of the planned protest, with one telling CBS News in the weeks before the demonstration that the call to ban guns was “ludicrous” and that his group had no plans to counter-protest.
A Here 4 the Kids spokesperson said that the protesters planned to continue the sit-in daily until Polis signs their executive order, though the governor’s office has repeatedly said he will not do so.