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In The Line Of Fire
When the state Legislature’s female leadership took on gun control in early 2013, everyone knew the debate would be red-hot. But no one predicted the sexism and violent threats that would be fired at some of Colorado’s most powerful women on their way to victory. By Megan Feldman
Editor’s Note: This article contains strong language and may be offensive to some readers.
It had been a long day. Heck, it had already been a long month—and it was only the fifth day of March. But Evie Hudak knew she should check her email one more time before she turned in. Hudak, the state senator from Colorado’s District 19, opened her laptop and perused the list of unopened emails. One looked unfamiliar. It was from someone named David and had no subject line. She clicked on it.
I am going to stick a knife up your cunt and tear your heart out through there. If you have one.
Hudak physically recoiled at the message, but she continued reading.
You’re a fucking disgusting piece of shit, and you deserve to be gang raped until your guts fall out of your rotten old cunt, you worthless sack of shit. Go fucking die.
As she read the words, she knew this was not a bad joke or spam. The person had very intentionally sent these vile sentences to her. Although the email had not said why David was so angry, Hudak knew. During a legislative session the day before, she had been speaking in support of a proposed bill to ban concealed-carry weapons on college campuses. A rape survivor testifying against the bill said she would have perhaps not been victimized had she been carrying a firearm. Hudak had countered that statistics didn’t support the likelihood of prevailing over an assailant while armed. Her remark hadn’t been well received at the time—and it was clearly still inciting a negative response. Hudak closed the laptop, slipped into bed, and tried not to cry as she lay next to her husband. She reminded herself: As a politician, she was supposed to have thick skin.
Hudak, 62, did her best to brush off David’s email as she drove to the Capitol the next morning. She’d decided she couldn’t let one foul-mouthed wacko bother her so much. But when she got to her desk and opened her email, there were more:
From DW: Listen up you cunt fucking whore, You need to be gang raped, you cunt fucking whore!!!!!!!!!!
The messages—both phone calls and emails—piled up throughout the day, including one note that called her a “stinking fat nasty dike.” That night, she cried herself to sleep.
After the mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown in 2012, the national gun-control debate exploded. In Colorado, where residents had suffered through two horrific massacres in 14 years, the discussion was particularly heated. In early January, state Representative Rhonda Fields announced she would seek to pass new restrictions on guns, and she began to host stakeholder meetings with gun-violence victims, law enforcement representatives, and gun-control advocates. The movement gained momentum from there, and by the end of February, legislators were running seven gun-control bills—all of which were sponsored or co-sponsored by women, including Hudak. If passed, the proposed bills would have banned high-capacity magazines; required background checks for private and online gun purchases; added liability for sellers and owners; banned legally concealed weapons on college campuses; eliminated online gun training; mandated that gun purchasers pay for background checks; and expanded the ban on weapons for domestic violence offenders.
Within weeks of announcing the legislation, the bills’ sponsors—both male and female—and their aides noticed a spike in the amount of feedback they were receiving from constituents. But they also noticed a difference in the responses: Those directed at the female gun-control bill sponsors had a distinctly violent and anti-female sentiment. “I got called ‘slut,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘whore,’ and ‘stupid,’ and ‘I hope you get raped’ was a repeated phrase,” says state Senate President-elect Morgan Carroll. “I started seeing threats of physical and sexual violence, and some direct and indirect threats like, ‘I have a gun, and I’m not afraid to use it.’ After Gabby Giffords, we have to take that seriously.”
Hudak received such a surge of vicious, sexually explicit, demeaning emails that her staffers created a folder labeled “Threatening” and filtered them from her inbox using key words such as “whore,” “bitch,” and “cunt.” The senator agreed it was unproductive to read any more of the messages. She had already spilled too many tears over them. Plus, she believed in the legislation, and nothing in those emails was going to change that.