State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, a leading advocate of stiffer gun-control laws, said she was “humbled and appreciative” to be invited to attend the White House speech delivered by President Barack Obama on Tuesday and said the experience made her proud of what she called the difficult work done to advance gun safety in Colorado.
“We started way back after Columbine to close loopholes in gun-purchase background checks. So why not? Why not do the same on the national level? It just takes commitment and leadership. We did it here, we could make it a model,” she told The Colorado Statesman after the president’s speech.
In a widely anticipated address, Obama appealed to the country to help curb gun violence and announced that he would take executive action to expand gun-purchase background checks and toughen some gun-safety policies. Analysts have said that among the proposals, the most effective could be adding 200 extra staffers to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to increase investigations. Also drawing praise was a direction to federal agencies to help develop smart-gun technology, which would make guns, similar to cell phones, inoperable to all but their owners.
Colorado Republican lawmakers criticized the proposed actions as an overreach that bypasses Congress.
U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, who represents the state’s swing 6th Congressional District, tweeted that the President “showed w/ #guncontrol that he has no respect for rep[resentative] government nor the limitations that Constitution places on his powers.”
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner said in a statement that the president has shown “little respect for the rights of gun-owning Americans and even less respect for our Constitution.”
U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs argued that the president’s actions would merely throw up hurdles to law-abiding Americans seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights.
Fields was among many who have been affected personally by gun violence who were invited to the White House for the speech.
Her son Javad Marshall-Fields and his fiancé, Vivian Wolfe, were gunned down at an Aurora intersection in 2005 in an ambush meant to prevent him from testifying in a murder trial. The story of the slayings featured prominently in legislative hearings in the 2013 push that led to the passage of new gun laws in Colorado. The new laws expanded background checks for gun purchases and limited ammunition magazine to 15 rounds. Last year Fields opened a center in the name of her son and his fiancé that provides young people with assistance finding work and educational opportunities.
Obama was introduced by Mark Barden, the father of one of the 20 first-grade students killed in the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012. Former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Arizona, also attended the ceremony. Giffords became an activist about gun violence after narrowly surviving an assassination attempt in 2011 that killed six and injured 13.
Obama lamented the victims of the rash of gun violence that has marked his presidency.
“Hundreds of thousands of Americans have lost brothers and sisters, or buried their own children. Many have had to learn to live with a disability, or learned to live without the love of their life,” he said.
State Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, and former Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, who were both ousted in recall elections in 2013, attend President Barack Obama’s address about gun-control measures he’s taking by executive order on Jan. 5 in Washington, D.C.
Photo courtesy Maisha Fields via Twitter
Not all of those attending the East Room speech Tuesday were close to victims of gun violence — at least two had their political careers cut short over gun-rights politics.
Former Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, were ousted in recall elections in 2013 after they supported the kind of gun control measures in Colorado that Obama called on federal lawmakers to muster the political courage to support.
“Yes, the gun lobby is loud and it is organized,” Obama said. “Well, you know what, the rest of us, we all have to be just as passionate. We have to be just as organized… All of us need to demand governors and legislatures and businesses do their part to make our communities safer.”
Giron and Morse were the first state lawmakers recalled from office in Colorado history.
Fields said it was an honor to stand with her former colleagues at the speech.
“What we did in Colorado came with a sacrifice, but there is no progress without a fight,” she said. [Giron and Morse] fought for the right reason at the right time. They’re at peace with what happened. They feel like they’re on the right side of history and they would do it all again.”
Most analysts say Obama’s planned executive actions would have less effect in Colorado than elsewhere because the state already has strong laws on the books.
Gov. John Hickenlooper released a statement lauding Obama’s planned executive actions, underlining the safety benefits he maintains have accrued due to the laws passed in Colorado.
“Expanded [state] background checks prevented more than 27,000 illegal purchases since 2012, including more than 100 denials based on prior arrest or conviction of homicide,” Hickenlooper said. “The president’s orders are an important step in saving lives across the country.”
Fields said she thought it would be a mistake to underestimate the power of the president’s commitment to the issue of gun safety.
“I think the speech will move the dial,” she said. “It shows how committed the President is to addressing the epidemic of gun violence in the country. He is trying to convert sympathetic thoughts and prayers for the victims into action to make us all safer.”
She paused and her voice grew firm.