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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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May 17th, 2013
03:14 PM ET

First on CNN: Gun battle in states heats up as NRA steps in to recall CO state senate president

By Jake Tapper, CNN Chief Washington Correspondent

The national battle over guns is headed to the states in a major way.

Already groups supporting more gun restrictions have been active on the local level. And now for the first time in almost two decades, the National Rifle Association is attempting to coordinate the recall of a top state legislator for having successfully passed further gun restrictions in his state, CNN has learned.

The focus of the NRA campaign is Colorado State Senate President John Morse. He is facing a petition drive to initiate an election to recall him because of  legislation passed earlier this year requiring “universal” background checks on sales of all firearms in the state, as well as a ban on the sale of ammunition magazines greater than 15 rounds.

Morse told CNN he knew he was being targeted by local gun groups, but at the beginning did not know the NRA was after him.

"It was a grassroots effort for a little while, but when that didn't take at all, it was clear they were getting money from outside, and I wasn't the least bit surprised the NRA was behind it," said Morse.

The NRA declined an invitation to appear on "The Lead."

In a mailer obtained by CNN, the NRA Political Victory fund wrote to a “Second Amendment Supporter” in Colorado that “your NRA is coordinating a recall effort with the Basic Freedom Defense Fund to put Senator Morse on the ballot for a special election and vote him out of office.” (Emphasis theirs.)

You can see both sides of the mailer here and here.

Writes the NRA: “State Senator Morse led the charge to pass extreme and onerous anti-gun state legislation in Denver earlier this year. Responsible gun owners and sportsmen will be forever burdened by his misguided leadership in the Colorado Senate.”

"You have to remember that Colorado is ground zero for some of the worst gun tragedies that have occurred in our nation's history, with Columbine, and again Aurora," said Morse.

"We addressed [tighter gun regulations] this session, but this is what we get for that response," said Morse.

The NRA mailing sends recipients to the website of the Basic Freedom Defense Fund and urges them to find a local petition signing location where, it’s suggested, they go to sign the petition to hold a recall election. The petition drive has a June 3 deadline; 7,178 signatures are needed to mandate a recall election.

With efforts to enact further gun restrictions failing in the U.S. Senate, this latest move suggests that these fights are turning to the states.

Some political observers suggest that these local battles over gun laws could end up gaining the type of attention, fundraising and ferocity that marked the failed 2012 recall election of GOP Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, with national groups such as the NRA squaring off against groups in favor of more gun regulations led by New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, just as corporate interests, such as the Koch brothers, squared off in Wisconsin against national labor unions.

Christy Le Lait, the campaign manager for Morse, tells CNN that the “NRA is investing in these recall races to send a message to every other local official to not pass any other gun safety measures or else the NRA will come after you as well.”

The NRA begged off public comment, deferring all interviews to local Colorado gun activists involved in the petition drive.

The NRA was involved in fending off the recall of Walker, though that was not a fight about gun laws. It also was involved in the successful recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, though that too was not a fight about guns.

In 1994, the NRA led an effort to recall Democratic California state senator David Roberti, who had pushed a law to ban some types of semiautomatic assault rifles in that state, though that effort was unsuccessful.

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