The four men behind the Colorado State Senate recalls on Friday laughed sardonically at the suggestion that outside interests - namely the GOP and NRA - are driving their campaigns to unseat four Democratic lawmakers.
"I think some people clamored for some help at the beginning," said Victor Head, who led the successful campaign to force a recall election of Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo. "They said 'where's the heavy hitters, where is the big interest in this, this has national implications' and they never showed up."
Head is a founding member of the Basic Freedom Defense Fund - a 501(c)4 non-profit set up in February to respond to gun legislation passed by lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session.
On Friday at the Capitol, Head sat down with The Gazette along with founding members Tim Knight of Durango, Anthony Garcia of Brighton and Grand Junction attorney Erik Groves.
The group began its first recall effort against Sen. Mike McLachlan, D-Durango, but failed to get enough signatures to force a recall election.
Similar efforts to unseat Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, also failed.
But the group accomplished something in Pueblo and Colorado Springs that has never been done in the state before - collecting enough valid signatures from registered voters to force a recall election of two legislators.
Voters will decide Sept. 10 whether to oust Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, and Giron.
The other side paints the Basic Freedom Defense Fund as a front organization for gun activist groups like Magpul Industries, the National Rifle Association or the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, but the three founding members and their attorney dispute that characterization.
A New York Times editorial backing Morse on Thursday calls it a case of the gun lobby taking a "vengeful aim" or the NRA "vindictively pressing for recall votes."
But Head, Knight and Garcia will have you believe they are just a group of voters outraged by the 2013 legislative session who took matters into their own hands.
"A lot of people had signed up to testify including me who weren't given the chance," Garcia said, of gun control legislation consider last session. "It was at that point I realized that . these bills are going to be passed on partisan lines and . they shouldn't be. The most I've ever done is e-mailed or called representatives on occasion . and I knew I had to do more, I knew I had to get more involved."
Yet in isolating Giron and Morse, the group chose targets in legislative districts where races appear to be close, and the group refrained from targeting a tougher political target such as Gov. John Hickenlooper, who signed the gun legislation.
Morse made himself an easier target for his leadership on the gun issues. A bill he sponsored that was killed would have made sellers, manufacturers and owners of assault rifles liable for damages.
Giron was not an outspoken advocate of the gun bills, nor did she sponsor any of the gun bills.
But all four legislators who were initially targeted were considered vulnerable in their districts or had low petition signature thresholds for recall.
The group's members say the issue is less about Second Amendment rights and more about elected officials refusing to listen to their constituents.
The reason that's a pill hard to swallow for some is the well-financed and coordinated campaign that sprung up in Senate District 11 and Senate District 3 seemingly overnight.
The Basic Freedom Defense Fund launched separate issue committees registered with the secretary of state for each of the four recall efforts. El Paso Freedom Defense Committee reported $84,118 in contributions in four months of campaign finance reports.
And almost all of that money came from sources that have shielded their donors through a non-profit or were reported in increments small enough that no donor had to be disclosed. Recall opponents say the secrecy is suspicious.
"We understand that, but here's the thing," said Knight, who his partners say is the father of the movement. "Democracy is being held hostage. The reason why you've never met me before, or some of us, is because we feel like if we come out and we do this, we're going to be personally attacked and that's hard. We've scared a lot of people away from the process here, because they're afraid, and that's a problem."
So they've done their best to allow people to donate to the cause anonymously either through small increments or through various non-profits.
The money bought paid signature collectors to help reach the threshold required to demand a recall election. Now that the election is scheduled, the money will fund a campaign urging people to vote yes and recall Morse and Giron.
Contact Megan Schrader