Fields usually gets a few dozen emails in a typical weekend, she said. But a handful of the 3,000 she received, along with a letter, were so charged with profanity and references to violence that Denver police arrested the suspected author, and state troopers increased security for the lawmaker.
The heightened emotions highlight a charged debate, pitting those who consider gun ownership a fundamental right against others calling for stricter laws to prevent violence after last year’s mass shootings at suburban Denver theater and a Connecticut school.
Fields, a Democrat who represents the district where 12 people were killed while watching a movie, is a leading proponent for new gun restrictions, and her role has thrust her into the spotlight.
“I will not be deterred by threats,” Fields said in a statement.
Fields’ case and others show that lawmakers considering new gun restrictions are becoming the target of aggressive lobbying and sometimes even threats.
In California, police arrested a man suspected of threatening a state senator over a bill to limit the rapid reloading of assault weapons. In Minnesota, a lawmaker who sponsored an assault weapons ban said she’s received threatening emails and calls. During hearings on gun bills this year, armed Minnesota State Patrol officers have been present, which is a rarity.
Wyoming legislative leaders said some of their members had been receiving abusive and overly threatening communication after the Republican Senate leader refused to bring up a bill for a vote that would exempt the state from any federal assault weapons ban.
“It is time for us to act in a better fashion,” said Wyoming’s Republican Senate president, Tony Ross.
Colorado lawmakers are bracing themselves for more of the same when they hear a half dozen gun bills Monday in the Senate. Some of the bills include proposals from Fields that have already cleared the House, such as requiring background checks for all gun sales and reducing the size of ammunition magazines.
“There is this extremist element where it does feel dangerous to stand up,” said Colorado state Sen. Jessie Ulibarri, a Democrat who will be voting on the bills Monday. Ulibarri received a letter from someone who said they hope the senator’s daughter is raped. Ulibarri has a 2-year-old girl.
Democrats say many of the emails and phone calls they are receiving are from out of state, or from people who don’t live in their district.
Not all of the emails have been negative. Both Democrats and Republicans say they’ve gotten many emails in support of their parties’ positions on gun laws.
Colorado Senate Republicans said they’ve received thousands of emails, most of them urging lawmakers to protect the Second Amendment. Republican Sen. Kevin Grantham said he alone has received about 3,000 messages this session.
One read, “As a law enforcement professional, I prefer that the general public is armed.”
“People are worried about losing their gun rights,” Grantham said. “That’s the theme. It comes in different shades and stripes, but it’s that people are worried about their Second Amendment rights.”
The emails directed at Fields, a black lawmaker, last month contained racial slurs throughout. One directed to her and another lawmaker co-sponsoring gun legislation read, “hopefully somebody Gifords both of” you, apparently referring to the shooting in Arizona that wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
It was an unsigned letter with no return address that drew concerns about a serious threat. It listed Fields and her daughter with the comment, “Death to Both.” The letter also exclaimed, “There Will Be Blood!”
Police suspect the man they arrested, 42-year-old Franklin Sain, sent the emails and the letter, but they have been unable to tie him conclusively to the letter. According to a police affidavit, Sain apologized to an officer about the comments he made to Fields in emails and a phone call.
“I’m just voicing some frustrations about a topic I consider sacred,” he said. Sain is due in court March 8, where he will find out whether he’ll face charges of harassment and attempting to influence a public official.