WASHINGTON (CNN) — The national battle over guns is headed to the states in a major way.
Already groups supporting more gun restrictions have been active at the local level.
And now for the first time in almost two decades, the National Rifle Association is attempting to coordinate the recall of a top state legislator over his role in the passage of new gun restrictions, CNN has learned.
The focus of the NRA campaign is Colorado State Senate President John Morse.
He is facing a petition drive to initiate an election to recall him because of legislation passed this year in Colorado requiring universal background checks on sales of all firearms in the state, as well as a ban on the sale of ammunition magazines greater than 15 rounds.
Morse told CNN he knew that local gun groups were going after him, but did not know at the beginning the NRA was involved.
“It was a grassroots effort for a little while, but when that didn’t take at all, it was clear they were getting money from outside. And I wasn’t the least bit surprised the NRA was behind it,” Morse said.
In a mailer obtained by CNN, the NRA Political Victory fund wrote to a “Second Amendment Supporter” in Colorado that “your NRA is coordinating a recall effort with the Basic Freedom Defense Fund to put Senator Morse on the ballot for a special election and vote him out of office.”
The NRA wrote that Morse “led the charge to pass extreme and onerous anti-gun state legislation in Denver,” adding that “responsible gun owners and sportsmen will be forever burdened by his misguided leadership in the Colorado Senate.”
Morse said it was important to remember that Colorado was “ground zero” for two of the nation’s worst mass shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton in 1999 and last July’s massacre at a movie theater in Aurora.
“We addressed [tighter gun regulations] this session, but this is what we get for that response,” said Morse.
The NRA mailing suggests members sign a petition for a recall election. The drive has a June 3 deadline and 7,178 signatures are needed to mandate a recall ballot.
With gun control efforts stalled in Washington following the failure of a proposal in the Senate to expand background checks, the move in Colorado suggests that the fight is now turning to the states.
Some political observers suggest that these local battles over gun laws could end up gaining the type of attention, fundraising and ferocity that marked the failed 2012 recall election of GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
Such scenarios could pit national groups like the NRA against advocates like Mayors Against Illegal Guns led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg just as corporate interests, such as the Koch brothers, squared off in Wisconsin against national labor unions.
Christy Le Lait, the campaign manager for Morse, tells CNN that the “NRA is investing in these recall races to send a message to every other local official to not pass any other gun safety measures or else the NRA will come after you as well.”
The NRA would not comment publicly, deferring to local Colorado gun activists involved in the petition drive.
The NRA was involved in fending off the recall of Walker, though that was not a fight about gun laws. It also was involved in the successful recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, though that too was not a fight about guns.
In 1994, the NRA led an effort to recall Democratic California state Sen. David Roberti, who had pushed a law to ban some types of semiautomatic assault rifles in that state, though that effort was unsuccessful.