Colorado Newspaper Misrepresents Public's Opinion Of State's New Gun Safety Laws

Colorado newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain failed to note Colorado voters' overwhelming support for the state's new gun background check law and instead provided a misleading generalization that “Colorado voters oppose the state's stricter new gun-control laws.”

In response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and the  movie theater mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three gun violence prevention measures into law on March 20. The new laws expand background checks on gun sales, limit magazine capacity to 15 rounds, and impose a $10 fee on background checks. State Sens. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) and John Morse (D-Colorado Springs) are facing a September 10 recall election over their support for the new measures.

The Chieftain's claim about the popularity of Colorado's new gun laws in the lead story for August 23 was based on a new Quinnipiac University poll that paradoxically found that the majority of voters oppose “the stricter new gun control laws in Colorado” by a 54 to 40 percent margin, but approve -- to varying degrees -- of the specific pieces of gun violence prevention legislation. The August 22 poll found that voters support requiring a background check on every gun sale by an 82 to 16 percent margin and support the limit on magazine capacity by a 49 to 48 percent margin. Quinnipiac did not ask voters about their opinion on the background check fee.

Unlike other major Colorado newspapers, the Chieftain reported on the general opposition to “the stricter new gun control laws” but failed to acknowledge support for the specific measures.

In national coverage, conservative newspaper The Washington Times also failed to mention support for background checks writing, “A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday shows that most Colorado voters oppose the state's newly passed gun-control laws, refuting Democratic lawmakers' insistence that the gun bills enjoy popular support.”

The Denver Post accurately described the Quinnipiac poll in an August 22 article, writing, “A majority of Coloradans don't like the two Sept. 10 recall elections, and while they oppose gun-control laws in general, they support the key laws that have led to the recall effort, according to a poll released Thursday.” The Gazette (Colorado Springs) republished an Associated Press article that mentioned both the generic and specific measure polling.

The Quinnipiac poll represents a common outcome for polling on gun violence prevention measures where the public expresses a greater deal of support for specific initiatives compared to the generic idea of “gun control.”

On July 28, ProgressNow Colorado revealed that Chieftain general manager Ray Stafford, production director Dave Dammann, and assistant publisher and vice president Jane Rawlings all signed a petition in favor of recalling Giron. The Chieftain had not disclosed this fact, but later published an editorial that dismissed subsequent conflict of interest allegations. Stafford also faced criticism over a March 3 email he sent to Giron where he highlighted his position with the paper and expressed his displeasure with her support of stronger gun laws.

The Chieftain and its news partner KRDO also devoted significant coverage to an alleged ethics complaint filed against Giron after she listed her state email address on her campaign website. It was later revealed that the complaint -- which watchdog group Colorado Ethics Watch predicted would be “almost certainly dismissed as frivolous” -- was never accepted by the Colorado Secretary of State for review.