Members of the Colorado Legislature expressed anguish Tuesday over the mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers, which left 10 dead, and a desire to take action.
It may not take long: The state senator who represents the district where the tragedy occurred said he’s drafting a bill to restore cities’ ability to enact gun restrictions above and beyond the state’s laws.
The shooting came just days after a district court judge in Boulder ruled that the city does not have the legal authority to enforce its 2018 citywide ban on assault-style weapons and magazines with a capacity to accept 10 or more rounds. The judge cited a 2003 state law that preempts local gun restrictions.
Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, of Boulder, said that lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Statehouse had lightly discussed repealing that 2003 law over the past week, but the talks accelerated among legislative leaders “only in the last 18 hours.”
“I didn’t know how relevant and timely it was until yesterday,” Fenberg said, adding, “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 21-year-old Arvada man who is charged with first-degree murder allegedly bought a Ruger AR-556 six days prior to the shooting, according the arrest warrant affidavit.
The 2003 state law reads in part, “A local government may not enact an ordinance, regulation, or other law that prohibits the sale, purchase, or possession of a firearm that a person may lawfully sell, purchase, or possess under state or federal law.”
Boulder officials were aware of this law when the city passed its ban in 2018. They now say they’re debating whether to appeal the district court ruling to the Colorado Supreme Court, though a repeal of the 2003 law would likely give the city the authority it’d seek from the state’s high court.
Fenberg said he’d want to make sure that any repeal didn’t open the door for local control in what he views as the wrong way — that is, cities seizing on newfound regulatory authority in order to put in place gun policies that are more lenient than the state’s.
He said he is in talks with nonpartisan legislative attorneys on his draft. Lawmakers sometimes request bill drafts and then never introduce them. Fenberg said that may happen in this case, as it’s still early in the process.
Gun bills tend to divide the legislature along party lines. Fenberg’s GOP counterpart in the Senate, Minority Leader Chris Holbert, was not available Tuesday to comment.
Two new gun restrictions, both brought by Democrats, are likely to pass the legislature this year: One would set stricter rules for storage of firearms by gun owners and the other would require people to report lost or stolen firearms. More may be on the way, Democratic leaders say, including one mandating a waiting period for new gun purchases and another designed to keep guns from domestic abusers.
Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile, whose Boulder district includes the King Soopers, said she didn’t feel comfortable leading a moment of silence on Tuesday morning because “silence won’t help the victims.”
GOP Rep. Richard Holtorf said a family friend died by suicide Monday, and called for more mental health resources. GOP Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg called for a societal return to godliness.
And Sen. Rhonda Fields, the Aurora Democrat whose son was shot and killed in 2005 and whose community saw 12 people fatally shot and dozens injured at a movie theater in 2012, cried out, “Where are we safe?”
Rep. Edie Hooton, the third Boulder legislator along with Amabile and Fenberg, said she “absolutely” would back returning local control to cities when it comes to gun laws — should a bill materialize.
“Boulder banned assault weapons because it made us feel safer to do that,” the Democrat said, adding later, “In this time, we need to mourn and pull together as a community and as a state, and we have to look at next steps. I think we all agree that something needs to be done. We may not agree on what the solutions are, but mass murders keep happening and what we’re doing right now is not working.”
The Colorado Legislature passed a “red flag” law in 2019, which allows for seizing firearms from people deemed by a judge to pose a risk to themselves or others. Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat and one of the lead sponsors of the 2019 law, said he’s “not philosophically opposed” to Fenberg’s idea, but what the state really needs is federal-level gun legislation.
“When I get angry, I think about the federal inaction, and the fact that it’s been a decade almost since Sandy Hook. States are trying to lead but we need a blanket of federal reforms to help us out,” he said.
“If we need to do more, if preemption is the additional policy,” he added, “I’m obviously open to that.”
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