Eileen McCarron has been a computer programmer for the Internal Revenue Service, a geophysicist for Amoco and a math instructor at Gateway High School and Aurora Community College.
Her retirement endeavor, though, is making a lasting difference in society.
McCarron is one of the founders and the current president of the Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, one of the most visible and effective organizations lobbying to prevent gun violence in this state.
As Colorado has enacted gun control legislation the last two decades, Ceasefire has organized rallies and committee witnesses, while maintaining a drumbeat of attention on the ongoing issue of gun violence and its victims.
The Colorado organization began as a political action committee in 2000. Five years before that, McCarron joined Texans Against Gun Violence.
"We work to influence public opinion, encourage public involvement and elect state legislators to strengthen gun violence prevention laws," she said.
The organization's record speaks for itself: In 2013, the Colorado General Assembly adopted universal background checks, a high-capacity magazine ban and, third, requiring those involved in domestic violence to relinquish their firearms, which followed the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Colorado the year before.
Ceasefire was one of the primary drivers of the push for Colorado to adopt the "red flag" gun law to take guns, at least temporarily, from those authorities think is a threat to themselves or others.
The organization started an educational branch, Colorado Ceasefire Outreach, in 2015, then in May 2016 co-hosted a forum on red-flag gun laws with the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and Mental Health Colorado.
McCarron grew up in Florida and graduated from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg with a bachelor's degree in mathematics, then later earned a master's in geophysics from Virginia Tech.
When she's not advocating, she enjoys music, especially singing in choirs and performing as a soloist, as well as an avid reader, gardener and hiker in Colorado's mountains.
Colorado Politics: How did you get involved in this issue?
Eileen McCarron: The 1994 national elections were pivotal. I felt everything I cared about was under assault, and was trying to discern exactly what issue I cared about the most in order to focus my energies. After a lot of prayer and thought, it was clear that I was being called to work in gun violence prevention. I was in Texas at the time and concealed carry legislation was under consideration. We moved to Colorado four months after the Columbine mass shooting, and I immediately became involved with the movement here. I am fortunate to never have lost a family member or friend to gun violence, but through the movement have met numerous people whose lives have been devastated by gun violence.
CP: Has the gun debate changed in the time you've been engaged? How do you think it will change going forward?
McCarron: In 1999 the Republican legislature and Republican governor were quite intent upon loosening gun laws in the state. They were delayed by the Columbine mass shooting, but by 2003, they had claimed victories on a number of those fronts. That was their high-water mark.
In Colorado, two big changes that affect gun violence prevention legislation: The ascendancy of Democrats in the Governor’s office and legislature. The disappearance of strong pro-gun rights legislators in the Democratic caucus.
Additionally, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has lost a lot of its clout after a series of poor showings in the Republican primary elections.
Nationally, after the 1994 elections, Democrats shied away from taking on the gun lobby. The continuing violence, especially mass shootings has transformed the Democratic party’s outlook. Today it embraces gun reform legislation. Yet Republican supporters are few. With a highly divided Congress, advances nationally are being stymied.
Going forward, there will be incremental advances, especially in the states. But these are jeopardized by a right-wing U.S. Supreme Court, where a number of justices are itching to move beyond the Heller decision. For 217 years of this country’s history, the Second Amendment was interpreted in the context of the prefatory clause “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary for a free state.” That view was essentially tossed with the Heller decision in 2008.
CP: When little changes after shootings such as Aurora, Sandy Hook and so many others, what keeps you from giving up?
McCarron: You don’t plant trees for yourself. You plant them for those who come after you. When you work on a difficult issue, you can’t be deterred when your efforts aren’t always met with success. Although it can be demoralizing at times, there are positive changes happening about us, especially in the states.
Following Aurora and Sandy Hook, Colorado enacted universal background checks, which are foundational to any other reforms. In 2019 we enacted an extreme risk protection orders law, and already this year 2 bills were signed into law and we are poised to enact four more significant measures.
Unfortunately, gun deaths are rising in Colorado as they are in the nation. I contend that this is largely due to the huge number of guns out there. The pandemic created a surge in gun buying, and we saw a concomitant rise in gun homicides. There are currently around 280,000 Coloradans with concealed carry permits. We have normalized guns as a part of everyday life. These guns are present when there are quarrels between friends and lovers, and when there is someone struggling with depression. Blasé attitudes on storage makes them easy to steal and enter the criminal market.
CP: Why is this debate so difficult for us as a nation? Is there achievable common ground?
McCarron: I expect some of it comes from reverence for the second amendment and the current interpretation of it. Personally, I have no doubt those men in wigs and breeches would ever have written such a statement if they knew of the weaponry in civilian hands and the huge number of tragedies we have with gun violence today.
Additionally, for gun owners it is absolutely imperative that they obtain training upon the acquisition of a gun. A significant portion of those training course are run by pro-gun rights advocates who share pro-gun rights rhetoric. The NRA began as a shooting sports organization, moved into education, and then in the 70s became a hard-core right-wing advocacy organization.
I believe that common ground can be reached with those who are hunters and have proper respect for firearms as tools. Those who have purchased guns for protecting themselves and their families would find upon research that it can invite death and injury into their households.
CP: Most people say they don't have time to take up a cause. What do you say to those people?
McCarron: Now that I am retired, it is easier to devote more time to the cause, but for two-thirds of the time I have been dedicated to this issue, I was working full time. It is a matter of balance and determining just how much time and effort you can expend on the cause of interest. Working with a helpful and cooperative organization is also essential. And I am blessed with a very supportive husband.
CP: What's next for Colorado Ceasefire?
McCarron: We were founded in 2000 after the failure of the General Assembly to close the gun show loophole. Voters did that in the 2000 election (SAFE Colorado led that campaign and garnered 70% of the vote.). From the start we have been focused on electoral and legislative activities, but we are now starting to work more in outreach to communities, particularly with education and involvement. For these 21 years, we have been an all-volunteer organization. We are now actively pursuing having professional staff.
That that doesn’t mean we leave legislation behind. We have a list of around 20 improvements needed in Colorado gun laws. In particular, I would like to see gun dealer licensing. When the sheriffs proclaimed they would not enforce the 2013 gun laws, they gave a free pass to non-compliant gun dealers. Although almost all gun dealers are responsible upstanding businesses, the ones that aren’t contribute to the toll of gun violence in the state.
Where did you grow up? I was born in Detroit, Michigan, but we moved to Lakeland, Florida, when I was 4, which Is where I grew up.
What have you worked at most of your life? My career has been quite varied. Geophysicist for 18 years and math teacher and instructor for 13 years.
Who is your mentor? David Smith, who led Texans Against Gun Violence, taught me about everything I know about being an activist on gun violence prevention. Rev. Russell Bennett in Tulsa encouraged me in discerning my role in the world with regard to my faith.
Can you sum up your personal philosophy? As a kid when we went camping, my father always instructed us to leave the campsite cleaner than when we arrived. Taking it more broadly:, to leave the world a better place than when I arrived.
Do you have pets and why are they named what they named? We have a dog named Jenny, who is named in honor of her predecessor Sabrina. In the months after we acquired Sabrina, my husband was out walking her and a woman he encountered exclaimed “I know this dog. She is Jenny.” The response of Sabrina to her previous name was the proof.
What's the longest government hearing you've ever sat through? Probably five years ago, one of the hearings on a gun bill lasted until after 1 a.m., but it was a hearing with a number of bills up for consideration.