Before the Boulder massacre, multiple mass shootings in Colorado have led to only modest changes in its gun laws
Coloradolawmakers are considering new guns laws after a shooter killed 10 at a Boulder supermarket.
- According to the Denver Post, Colorado had the 5th highest rate of mass shootings per capita.
- Tragedy in the state has mostly been met with only incremental legislative action on guns.
In 1993, a gunman killed four employees at a Chuck E. Cheese in Aurora, Colorado. Six years later, in 1999, two teenagers at Columbine High School killed 12 students, a teacher, and injured 20 more people before killing themselves. In 2012, during a crowded screening of Batman in an Aurora movie theater, a man shot 12 people dead and wounded 58 others.
Each of these shootings renewed debates about gun control, but anti-gun advocates generally failed to push through the tough laws they said were needed.
On Monday afternoon, a man police have identified as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, opened fire at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, killing 10 people. The shooting came less than a week after a different man killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women, at three Atlanta-area spas.
Condemning the shootings, President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Congress to pass legislation tightening gun control laws by expanding background checks for gun purchases and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines that were similar to what was used in Boulder.
It was a familiar refrain, as was the push-back from Republicans in Congress who said that limiting guns would infringe on people's Second Amendment Rights and make everyone less safe. "In my judgment, we do not need more gun control," Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, a Republican, said on Fox
The calls were echoed in Colorado, which saw a 46 percent increase in gun sales last year as it conducted more than 500,000 background checks, most of which were approved.
"With the sheer number of guns, our laws are relatively weak," Eileen McCarran, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, a gun violence prevention organization, told Insider. "But one of the things we would say is, think how much worse it would be if we hadn't passed these."
According to a 2019 analysis by the Denver Post, Colorado had more mass shootings per capita than all except four states. Annette Moore, the co-founder of Blue Rising, a PAC focused on gun safety laws, told Insider that this is partly because promises made in the wake of mass shootings are rarely kept.
"I feel like we do go through phases of, when a mass shooting happens, more attention is focused on gun safety, and there's hope we can make big progress. And it somehow fades," she said. "I hope this was the last straw and we can make more strides in Colorado."
Advocates say that some of the restrictions put in place over the last two decades might have limited the number of dead, but that putting an end to mass shootings in Colorado would require actions that guarantee guns do not end up in the wrong hands.
Alissa purchased a Ruger AR-556 semiautomatic pistol on March 16, six days before the shooting, an affidavit by Boulder police showed. Alissa's sister-in-law told authorities that two days prior to the shooting, his family took the gun away from him because they were upset he was playing with it in the house.
Ten days before the shooting, a Colorado judge struck down Boulder's ban on assault weapons, which had been enacted in the aftermath of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Because there's no state-wide ban on assault weapons, the judge ruled that Boulder violated was not permitted to create its own.
In the aftermath of the shooting, the state senator who represents Boulder said he was working on a bill to allow cities to enact gun laws that extend beyond what the state allows, the Denver Post reported. The paper noted that gun control bills tend to divide the Democrat-controlled legislature along party lines.
"I didn't know how relevant and timely it was until yesterday," state Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, of Boulder, was quoted as saying, "It's not like if the city of Boulder had had that ban in affect, that this wouldn't have happened. But it doesn't mean it's not a relevant conversation and tool that communities should have."
The guns used at Columbine High School, located about 44 miles from Boulder in Littleton, were bought from private sellers at gun shows. In its aftermath, Colorado residents in 2000 approved a referendum to close a gun show loophole that allowed people to buy weapons at gun shows without having to pass a background check.
In Aurora, about 41 miles from Boulder, the movie theater shooting put a spotlight on high-capacity magazines, which enabled the shooter to fire as many 60 shots per minute. In the aftermath of that attack, in 2013, Colorado lawmakers passed five more bills, including universal background checks, limiting the capacity of magazines to 15 rounds, and mandating that individuals convicted domestic violence give up their firearms.
In 2019, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, Colorado joined a handful of other states by passing a "red flag law" that gave courts the authority to remove guns from people who posed a threat of violence to themselves or others. In its first year, 111 cases were filed.
Proponents of strict gun limits argue there's a lot more that Colorado could do to prevent future shootings. Unlike 10 states and the District of Columbia, Colorado does not mandate that a person wait a specific number of days - also known as a waiting period - between purchasing a firearm and taking it home. Advocates for such bills say they allow more time for authorities to conduct background checks and for the purchaser to cool off in instances in which he or she may be feeling angry or suicidal. Colorado Ceasefire has been working on a bill that would require a person to wait 5 days before acquiring a gun, something the group says is among its legislative priorities
"We've been making incremental change in Colorado but there's still work to do," said Moore of Blue Rising.
Federal action, which would block people from driving over state lines to purchase firearms in jurisdictions with weaker laws, is also vital, advocates say. Since Columbine, anti-shooting advocates have pushed for such action, but there has been little movement. They also want to see a Clinton-era federal ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004 and was not renewed, put back in place. Contradicting the belief that gun control is a purely partisan issue, perhaps the most meaningful reform of the last decade came when the Trump administration banned bump stocks, a part that can be added to guns to make them fire quicker, in 2019.
At the federal level there really hasn't been any gun policy changes, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, the author of Columbine, 20 Years Later and Beyond: Lessons From Tragedy. "We need not have much more proactive conversations, not reactive."
After nearly every mass shooting, the satirical site The Onion reposts a headline that says, "'No Way To Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens." And yet, for all the logjam in the halls of Congress and in most state legislatures, there is some indication that the general public supports laws to enhance gun safety.
Following the Aurora movie theater shooting, a poll by Pew Research Center found that similar to prior mass shootings, public opinion on gun control laws was unchanged. Recently, the numbers show otherwise. A 2019 poll showed that 60% of Americans said gun laws should be stricter, compared to 47% in 2012.
Groups like Everytown for Gun Safety, which was born out of the massacre at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school a few months after the Aurora movie theater killings, has been raking in donations.
Meanwhile, the gun rights movement has floundered. The once powerful National Rifle Association has declared bankruptcy and is embroiled in allegations of fraud and corruption.
"Tragedies can sometimes change people. You keep hoping is this is the one," McCarran said. "Is this the issue that will finally change people's hearts?"
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