Rival pro-gun groups’ explosive relationship triggers political hits

But Kerr says knife wounds in his back were real cause of vacancy committee dis
The Colorado Statesman

State Rep. Jim Kerr says it’s not bullet holes, but knife wounds in his back that hurt him following a Republican vacancy committee in which the veteran lawmaker from Littleton was passed over for a promotion to the upper chamber a few weeks ago after infighting within the gun community.

It was during the proceedings of that vacancy committee — assembled in November to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Mike Kopp — that Kerr says a fractured conservative gun lobby mobilized support for Jefferson County businessman and activist Tim Neville by manipulating facts and distorting the truth about Kerr’s positions on gun issues.

“I just know who is naughty and who is nice and who stabs me in the back,” Kerr told The Colorado Statesman on Tuesday. “It’s clear now, there’s no gray area right now. I can name the names of the knives in my back.”

The name that pops up above all others is Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners (RMGO), the largest Colorado-based gun lobby in the state. He is also the executive director of the National Association for Gun Rights, a group that serves as an umbrella coordinator for various state-level pro-gun organizations.

Brown questioned Kerr’s commitment to pro-gun issues during the vacancy proceedings, throwing his support behind Neville, who despite having no experience in the legislature won narrow approval to leap right into a role as a state senator.

The controversial vote was 60-58 after Brown made an impassioned plea for gun rights activists and “true” conservatives to back Neville over Kerr. The heart of Brown’s argument revolved around a 2008 piece of legislation sponsored by Kerr that would have eliminated the requirement for the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to remain open on Sundays in order to process instant criminal background checks. House Bill 1190 would have essentially banned gun sales on Sunday since dealers are prohibited from selling a gun without conducting a background check with the CBI.

Kerr’s sponsorship of the legislation amounted to the same as treason for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and its lobby, causing the group to question his commitment to pro-gun issues and conservative values.

But Kerr says Brown twisted the truth in order to advance his own political agenda. He said his sponsorship of HB 1190 was a strategy worked out with Steven Schreiner, lobbyist for the Firearms Coalition of Colorado, in which Kerr would introduce the legislation with the end goal of simply killing it.

The thought was that with it being a fully Democratic-controlled legislature at the time, and having former Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter sitting in the executive office, gun control legislation banning sales on Sunday would have passed without a strategy to strike first.

“It was a pocket veto… only a few people have ever implemented this…” said Kerr.

He and his supporters believe that former Rep. Rosemary Marshall, D-Denver, who co-sponsored HB 1190 with Kerr in her last year at the legislature, was already seeking to ban gun sales on Sunday. They say Marshall would have successfully done so on her own had a strategy not been worked out with Kerr.

“The end result was exactly what was intended,” said Schreiner. “It wasn’t an accident, it was very deliberate and very successful.”

Marshall says she obviously wasn’t privy to any insider conversations between Kerr and Schreiner, nor does she have a clear recollection of sponsoring HB 1190 with Kerr. She does acknowledge that banning gun sales on Sunday would have been a topic close to her heart, but she doesn’t believe that she would have been the prime sponsor of any gun legislation to do so. Marshall believes Kerr is making a “deceptive claim” as to his motivation for sponsoring the bill.

“I am not as politically naïve as Rep. Kerr seems to imply,” she said. “If it had been my intention to introduce gun legislation, I would have done so in my name. If indeed his motivation is as he described, then that suggests his credibility is in question. To admit his deceit speaks to his lack of integrity.”

Infighting of gun groups impacts Kerr

Perhaps the most contentious caveat of the debate is between the Firearms Coalition of Colorado and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. The infighting between the two pro-gun lobbies in Colorado highlights not just a split in the community, but also the woes faced by Kerr.

Brown contends that Kerr aligned with the wrong side by striking a deal with Schreiner and the Firearms Coalition of Colorado in 2008. He said Kerr should have at least brought Rocky Mountain Gun Owners into the conversation at the time. Brown then belittled the sway and influence of the Firearms Coalition of Colorado.

“If he’s that stupid to think that Steve Schreiner has a say in firearm policy in the State of Colorado, then he’s really getting what he deserves,” Brown said of Kerr, boasting that Kerr’s actions cost him an election to the state Senate.

The division between the two gun groups actually began in the mid-’90s when Brown, a weapons instructor, and Schreiner used to be a part of the same team, both working with the Firearms Coalition of Colorado. But a difference of opinion in 1996 over how to operate a newly created political action committee caused Brown and Schreiner to split ways. Brown wanted to use the PAC to fund campaigns for conservative gun rights supporters; Schreiner said he wasn’t comfortable with the approach.

“He told these legislators that they would not get money unless they bowed down to him,” Schreiner complained of Brown. “I wasn’t going to be a part of that.”

But Brown says Schreiner never had a problem with using the PAC to influence the election of candidates. He said Schreiner’s problem was that he simply wanted to use the money to elect “middle of the road” Republicans.

Brown himself has a long history with the Republican Party in Colorado, having served as northern Colorado director for Republican U.S. Sen. Bill Armstrong in 1989 and then serving as a spokesman for House Republicans.

In 1993, Brown became legislative director of the Firearms Coalition of Colorado and contract lobbyist for the Colorado State Shooting Association (the NRA state affiliate). In 1996 Brown founded Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a no-compromise gun rights lobby concentrating on Colorado, which operates independently of other gun rights organizations. He is the only professional lobbyist to endure the 9-year battle for a “shall issue” concealed carry law in Colorado.

The outspoken gun rights advocate is never shy in letting people know where he stands, and his brazen approach to politics surely cost Kerr a seat in the Senate. But Brown has no qualms about this.

“Jim Kerr paid the price for cutting a deal with Steve Schreiner and the Firearms Coalition,” exclaimed Brown. “The message to legislators who claim to be pro-gun, but behind the scenes are working with some so-called ‘gun groups’ is, you’d better take a good look at what this deal is, because it’s not going to jive with the people.”

Kerr maintains that the strategy he developed with Schreiner was “brilliant.” He has theories for why Brown campaigned so passionately for Neville, and they focus on Brown’s political aspirations.

“I think that Dudley Brown has a hidden agenda, and he decided that I’m a guy to pick on,” said Kerr. “This wasn’t about the issue, this was about him throwing his weight around and proving that he is the most dangerous man in Republican politics. I would have been a state senator right now, but that’s water under the bridge.”

Neville himself, the man who is the “water under the bridge,” was quick to defend Brown and his supporters, suggesting that Kerr is fabricating a story to protect himself from conservative critics.

“This was possibly a hastily written bill that the powers that be maybe told Jim, ‘You need to kill this thing,’” said Neville. “That is my understanding from various sources, and I don’t doubt those sources. I thought it was unfortunate that Jim floated that story. I don’t think it helped his cause, and I think it caused a lot of people to question him … Humility goes a little way down here.”

Peter@coloradostatesman.com