DENVER -- Much of the anger felt by those who oppose the seven Democratic gun control bills moving through the state Senate this week is now being directed at Sen. Evie Hudak, who questioned a rape victim's assertion Monday that a concealed weapon might have staved off her attacker.
Hudak, who acknowledged her insensitivity on Tuesday and personally apologized to that victim, Amanda Collins, is suddenly a symbol of what many conservatives are terming a new "War on Women", arguing that more restrictive gun laws will leave women more vulnerable to violent attacks.
In fighting that supposed war against women, conservatives are attacking two Democratic women sponsoring gun control bills, Hudak and Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who received a death threat so vile the sender is now facing charges.
A visibly shaken Hudak showed up the Capitol Wednesday, still the target of unfettered vitriol from gun control opponents emailing and tweeting at her -- and sustained criticism from the Colorado GOP and the state's newspaper of record.
"Victims of rape are not statistics, they are real people," said Colorado GOP Chairman Ryan Call in a statement emailed to the party's supporters Wednesday.
"Sen. Hudak has become an embarrassment to Colorado and a distraction in the state Senate," Call added. "Her condescending attitude toward this young woman is not only reprehensible, it is indicative of the attitude of Colorado Democrats who think they know better. Her weak excuses and half-hearted apologies just don't cut it."
The Denver Post also published an editorial titled, "Colorado Sen. Evie Hudak disrespected rape victim."
"The episode made Hudak look like she cared not a whit for a rape victim," the editorial concluded. "We're glad she at least had the good sense to apologize."
Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, told FOX31 Denver that Democrats have brought this increasingly intense criticism upon themselves by introducing the seven gun control measures and by scheduling them all to be heard Monday and public limiting testimony.
"A thousand people show up and almost none of them get to testify? They don't feel like the people in this building are listening to them," Brophy said. "They feel like they're listening to Mayor Bloomberg, and Joe Biden instead."
Aiming to fan the flames of outrage, a handful of conservative activists have succeeded at pushing a 1991 mug shot of Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, into this debate.
Jeniffer Raiffie, an activist who's worked closely with Tom Tancredo, tweeted the mug shot on Monday with the hash-tag #gangsta and was quickly criticized by the conservative blog, Colorado Peak Pols, which tweeted back: "#goaway".
But by Wednesday, an anonymous person had posted the mug shot on the Facebook page of Magpul Industries, the high-capacity magazine manufacturer threatening to leave Colorado if Fields' proposed ammunition ban becomes law.
Here is the mug shot that was anonymously captioned: "Criminals Will Obey The Laws I Introduce in Colorado."
Magpul issued a statement taking exception to the post and promising to block anyone who re-posts it on its page.
On Wednesday, Raiffie actually defended her initial use of the mug shot after it got wider traction.
Moments later, Colorado Peak Pols tweeted back again: "You're still a fool. Not for the mugshot, but for what you said about it. #pleasegoaway"
The mug shot comes from a 1991 shoplifting charge that was widely reported by the Post and FOX31 Denver in 2010, when Fields ran for the legislature.
Fields explained that, at the time, she had just left an alcoholic husband and was struggling to feed her children.
Colorado House Democratic spokesman Dean Toda said that Fields' criminal background is "old news."
"Rep. Fields acknowledged her mistake from the beginning, and she has been open and honest about it since the moment she became a candidate for public office," Toda said. "Her constituents elected her, and they re-elected her. Those who are trying to use this now to mount a smear campaign against Rep. Fields merely betray their desperation."
A Republican operative at the Capitol lamented the sudden emergence of the mug shot, noting that it drew attention away from the ongoing controversy surrounding Hudak.
Democrats, meanwhile, dismissed the notion of a "War on Women" as political spin.
"For the Republicans to suggest these bills are a war on women is probably just a smokescreen for them to rationalize how they can possibly vote no on these bills, one of which takes guns away from domestic violence offenders," Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, told FOX31 Denver Wednesday.
"We've got the background check bill that is devised to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, including rapists. And I'm sure all 15 [Senate] Republicans will vote against that too on Friday."
Majority Leader Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, told FOX31 Denver that the Democratic gun control agenda is being driven by women, who have been galvanized by the mass shootings last year in her district and in Newtown, Conn.
In her view, the outrage over Hudak's comment to rape survivor Amanda Collins would be more sincere if it didn't seem like "political sport."
"We have moved away from the public policy here and into a bit of sport around deeply painful issues for people," Carroll said.
"The fact that you have to try to take some of these things out of context, you have to be screening and looking for it, and having those conservative activists trying to actively work social media to create a controversy is sad."
Without condoning everything said and done by gun control opponents, Brophy told FOX31 Denver that their outrage isn't politically motivated but driven by an intense anger over what many view as a serious infringement of their Second Amendment rights.
"We don't control what happens in social media, and it happens all the time, both ways," Brophy said of the personal attacks.
"I do a lot of radio interviews and a lot of work encouraging people to come down here and I always tell them, 'Behave like the gentle women and men that you know you are.'
"But a lot of people care deeply about this, so of course they're going to be angry. People in Colorado deserve to be listened to and they deserve the respect of their elected officials. And I think they're upset they don't feel like they're getting that respect."