In the months after last year’s mass shooting at the Table Mesa King Soopers in South Boulder, state lawmakers passed more changes to Colorado gun laws than in any year since 2013, when they passed universal background checks and a large-capacity magazine ban.
Many of the new changes were a direct result of the March 22, 2021 massacre in which an alleged gunman opened fire inside the supermarket and killed 10 people.
The alleged gunman purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol, widely considered an assault-style rifle, from a gun shop in Arvada despite having previously pleaded guilty to third-degree assault, according to court records. So state lawmakers expanded background check requirements to bar people with misdemeanor assault convictions from purchasing a gun.
Just 10 days before the massacre, a Boulder County District Court judge suspended the city’s 2018 assault-style weapons ban due to a conflict with a 2003 state law. So lawmakers amended the law to allow local governments to pass gun ordinances more strict than state gun laws.
Even so, Boulder has yet to reinstate its ban on the possession, transfer or sale of assault-style weapons.
In fact, more than a year after the shooting, the city has not enacted any new gun regulations.
One reason is because the city is seeking to work with other local governments across Boulder County — including Superior, Lafayette and unincorporated Boulder County — to pass a range of reforms at the same time.
Such measures being discussed by local officials include outlawing assault-style weapons, prohibiting carrying a firearm in certain public places, requiring a 10-day waiting period to purchase a gun, increasing liability for federally licensed gun dealers, and banning homemade “ghost guns” without serial numbers.
The hope, local officials say, is to pass gun control measures that cover a wider area in and around Boulder.
“It’s going to be better in terms of maximally protecting our community members, and the bubbles around our communities, if we knit together with other communities that want to take action,” said Rachel Friend, a Boulder City Councilmember who has been working on the proposed gun regulations. “To me, that is worth a small wait.”
Several of the measures under discussion are unlikely to be passed by state or federal lawmakers anytime soon. Last legislative session, Gov. Jared Polis said he is “not concerned about the model of the gun” in response to questions about banning assault-style weapons. State lawmakers also abandoned efforts to enact gun-purchase waiting periods. And President Joe Biden has been proposing regulations on ghost guns for more than a year, but reforms are still months away.
The local gun reforms were drafted with the help of Giffords, the national gun control advocacy organization, with Colorado’s constitution and statutes in mind, according to Tim Howard, a trustee with the Town of Superior.
“If an ordinance can’t be upheld [in the courts], then it’s worthless,” Howard told the town board in October 2021. “We don’t want to be building case law that is detrimental to putting safety ordinances on the books.”
The plan to pass the regional gun legislation was delayed in part by the 2021 municipal elections and, more recently, the Dec. 30 Marshall Fire, which destroyed more than a thousand homes in Boulder County.
“We just didn’t have the capacity,” said Claire Levy, a Boulder County Commissioner who is helping to adopt the package of regulations for areas of unincorporated Boulder County. “We just did not have the bandwidth in the County Attorney’s Office to do the research that we feel like we needed to do.”
‘Atmosphere of intimidation’
Local officials are proceeding cautiously with the reforms in anticipation of pushback from pro-gun activists.
Levy represented Boulder in the state House when Democrats passed a package of gun regulations in 2013, the year after the mass shooting inside the Aurora movie theater. The reforms prompted a backlash from the gun lobby and the recall of two state senators, John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo.
“They created a real atmosphere of intimidation at the Capitol,” Levy said of pro-gun activists. “These things are very hard and tend to suck a lot of oxygen out of the room.”
Similarly, before Boulder passed its ban on assault-style rifles in 2018, pro-gun activists carried guns through the streets of Boulder in protest.
Sam Weaver, former mayor of Boulder, said he recalls receiving letters at that time with a picture of an assault rifle on one side and the words “this could be for you” on the other. He said councilmembers practiced evacuations in the event there was an active shooting.
“We had people bused in to harass and intimidate us,” Weaver said. “The reason to coordinate between cities is, if they are going to pass these measures at roughly the same time, it’s much harder to flood the zone with people who don’t live in the cities.”
The process by which local governments pass reforms is expected to come under close scrutiny from gun rights advocates. Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a conservative pro-gun group, sued Gov. Polis after Democrats passed a 2019 red flag law allowing law enforcement to temporarily confiscate a person’s guns if they’re determined to pose “a significant risk of causing personal injury to self or others in the near future.” The case, which is centered around how the law was passed, is now pending before the Colorado Supreme Court.
The group is planning to hire someone to monitor local governments, and activists have already filed open records requests to determine which municipalities seek to pass new regulations, according to Taylor Rhodes, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
“We were expecting that they would want to do all of this over Zoom,” Rhodes said of Boulder’s efforts to pass new gun rules. “Because we have a tendency to turn their meetings into a circus.”
In response to the King Soopers shooting, he said he is trying to get more cities to do away with gun-free zones.
‘Fight to make a difference’
On Tuesday, March 22, 2022, about 200 residents gathered at the downtown Bandshell to remember the 10 people who were killed in the shooting.
Levy was among the few people who discussed gun policy during the event. She celebrated Boulder’s history of trying to keep guns out of the community.
“We’re activists. We control our fate. So we will fight to make a difference,” she said. “We will not allow our community to be so awash with guns, that in a moment of heated passion or despair, the unthinkable happens that cannot be undone.”