A town hall meeting this week hosted by two state lawmakers in Louisville was organized "to discuss school funding and to answer questions," according to event announcements.
Rep. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette, and Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, invited the public to the Louisville library Wednesday night. The topic -- education funding -- was noted on Foote's website, as well as on the Colorado House Democrats website and in the Camera.
But a vast majority of the more than 100 people who packed the meeting were intent on discussing another topic: gun rights, and why Jones should vote against a package of gun-control bills that will begin making their way through the Senate next week.
"I told people we are going to listen to our panelists, who we had arranged to be there, and would talk to them when that was over," Jones said Friday. "It was difficult, but people were pretty respectful and sat through the meeting and even asked questions."
Just why the Second Amendment advocates -- including some from as far away as Littleton and Castle Rock -- chose to attend a meeting about proposed school funding legislation was not entirely clear to Jones.
Based on information collected by his aide, who was welcoming people to the meeting, he believes some of them may have been led to believe the town hall discussion was to be centered on gun rights issues. Jones' aide told him one man produced a flier from the National Rifle Association indicating the meeting was about gun legislation.
"Our understanding is that there were gun groups saying that the town hall was about guns and there were other emails saying it was about education, but go talk about guns," Jones said.
Jones and Foote said they made a point to stay after the education discussion had wrapped up -- and half an hour after the library had closed -- to listen to gun advocates' comments.
"It was tense, but that is our responsibility as elected officials to listen to
people, and that means everybody," Jones said.
The two lawmakers aren't the only Democrats who have had their events crashed by gun-rights advocates.
So many people wanted to talk about the issue at state Sen. Angela Giron's town hall discussion about foreclosure on Feb. 16 that the Pueblo Democrat scheduled a second town hall meeting about guns for the following weekend, according to Doug Schepman, spokesman for the Senate Democrats.
One entity encouraging gun owners to make their voices heard at Democratic town halls is Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, Colorado's largest gun rights lobby.
The group's website on Friday listed four Democratic events taking place today across the state, including an informal meeting Giron will hold at 9 a.m.
The RMGO website is also encouraging advocates to attend a town hall meeting being held by Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Gilpin County, to "politely, but firmly" ask her to oppose gun-control legislation. The site does not list a topic for Nicholson's meeting, but her website notes the topic is child welfare.
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, said he thinks lawmakers selecting a topic for their town hall events -- telling their constituents what they will talk about and when -- is "kind of arrogant," and he prefers to talk to voters about what they want to hear about.
Brophy likely helped drive gun-rights advocates to Wednesday's event in Louisville and other Democratic events around the state. An ardent gun-rights advocate who has challenged Gov. John Hickenlooper to a debate on the topic via Twitter, Brophy said he receives hundreds of emails from people everyday voicing their opposition to the gun-control legislation the Senate will take up Monday. He said he does his best to get back to people, often advising them to lobby lawmakers from their district in person.
"The most effective thing you can do is go see your legislator in person," Brophy said, outlining what he tells concerned voters via email. "If you can't make it to the state Capitol, here are a bunch of town meetings where you can go and catch them."
Brophy said he sent an email encouraging people to attend Wednesday's event in Louisville, then later received feedback from some attendees voicing displeasure with Jones and his unwillingness to say how he plans to vote on the package of bills.
"Constituents deserve to know how you are going to vote," Brophy said.
Jones is vice chairman of the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. The body on Monday will hear three gun control bills: HB-1229, which would establish universal background checks for gun sales; HB-1228, which would require a background check fee; and HB-1226, which would ban concealed weapons from college campuses.
Jones said he plans to wait until he has heard the hearing testimony before deciding how he will vote on the bills.
Contact Camera Staff Writer Joe Rubino at 303-473-1328 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ___