The attempted insurrection on Jan. 6, affordable housing, water conservation and gun control were just some of the subjects discussed in a forum Saturday with Democratic candidates running in Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District primary.
Defeating Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert also was an ever-present theme.
The forum at the Durango Public Library was hosted by the La Plata, Archuleta and Montezuma Democrats and featured candidates Adam Frisch, Sol Sandoval and Alex Walker.
It followed a March for Our Lives protest led by Indivisible Durango. Advocates of gun safety regulations carried signs, chanted slogans and marched from Durango High School to the library, where they gathered outside to share personal stories about gun violence.
The event was held while similar March for Our Lives protests occurred across the nation Saturday. About 100 people marched at the Durango event.
A large number of attendees at the forum also participated in the march.
The forum opened with a question to candidates about gun control: “If elected, what are two additional steps you will take to advance gun safety regulations recently passed by the House?”
Candidates had 90 seconds each to respond.
Sandoval, a social worker and community organizer from Pueblo, said she has children in public school and is “as worried and heartbroken” as the marchers in attendance. She said she supports the Second Amendment and is a responsible gun owner. She said every right comes with responsibility.
She supported mandatory background checks for all gun purchases, including at gun shows and online, and national red flag laws.
“Red flag laws work,” she said. “They save lives. They are in 19 states, including Colorado. We need to expand them at the national level and ensure that people are not going to harm themselves – let’s prevent people from harming themselves – and also from harming others.”
She added that the age at which someone can buy a semiautomatic weapon needs to change.
Walker, who described himself as “a gay, 31-year-old mechanical engineer raised right here in Colorado,” said he is part of a generation that grew up with active shooter drills and went through school fearing a shooter could enter the building.
He said the gun safety regulation is not a complex issue. He supports closing the Charleston loophole – a law that allows gun purchases to move forward after three business days even if the background check process has not been completed – and the banning of assault weapons.
“When Democrats ramble on this issue, people die,” he said. “On the issue of assault weapons, this isn’t a matter of age. It’s just insane that military equipment is in civilian hands.”
He said banning assault weapons would be a top priority for him in Congress.
Frisch, a moderate Democrat and a former Aspen City Council member, said Colorado is No. 10 out of 50 states, or within the top 20th percentile of states, with sensible gun safety regulations according to Everytown, a gun safety advocacy website and Bloomberg Philanthropies project.
He said he wants to see Colorado’s gun laws implemented at the national level, including domestic violence laws that prevent abusers from legally possessing firearms. He said he seeks out Coloradans who support the Second Amendment to gauge how comfortable they feel under Colorado gun laws.
Of about 100 Second Amendment supporters Frisch has spoken with, he hasn’t met one who thinks their Second Amendment rights aren’t protected in Colorado, he said.
“They don’t even understand, I believe, that they’re living in a top 20th percentile state of sensible gun safety,” he said.
The candidates discussed how they would tackle other issues in Congress during the forum, including the labor shortage and affordable housing crisis, impending climate change, how to frame the abortion debate against Republican opponents and how to win the votes of unaffiliated voters in the bid to unseat Boebert.
When the March for Our Lives reached the library, several participants took to the microphone to share stories of gun violence.
Becca Conrad-Whitehead carried a large puppet with her during the march, and at the library she explained the intent behind it.
It’s name was La Llorona, or “The weeping woman,” she said, inspired by the character in Mexican folklore of the same name.
“Her story is, she asks the question, ‘How many children must be plucked from the river before we walk upstream to do something about it?’” she said.
Conrad-Whitehead said she was pregnant with her first child in 1999 when the Columbine High School massacre occurred. She wondered what kind of world people were bringing their children into. She observed that mass shootings and school shootings continue to happen “over and over again” 23 years later.
“She (La Llorona) bears the names of various victims,” she said. “There were too many for me to pick to stamp. I just couldn’t do them all. It was too hard to think of the number of people.”
The Columbine, Parkland and Santa Fe shootings were among those referenced on Conrad-Whitehead’s puppet, she said.
Bayfield resident Beverly Ellis read the testimony of Dr. Roy Guerrero of Uvalde, Texas, to protesters gathering for the march.
She said Guerrero gave “very moving testimony” and accused Congress of being passive and inactive on the issue.
“They (U.S. House of Representatives) passed a resolution to raise the age (to purchase semiautomatic centerfire rifles), to strengthen ghost guns and also for the safekeeping of guns,” she said in an interview with The Durango Herald. “But every Republican in the House of Representatives voted ‘no.’ And two Democrats, by the way.”
She said responsible gun owners support safe storage of firearms, one of several changes to gun control she would like to see legislated.
“Here in Colorado, we changed laws and I don’t hear anybody complaining that their Second Amendment rights are being challenged,” she said. “Even Justice Alito, who is a conservative justice, said that constitutional rights are not unlimited.”