The Boulder City Council on Tuesday, June 7, unanimously passed a package of gun laws that are among the strictest in Colorado, capping off a nearly year-long effort to enact stronger protections against gun violence following the King Soopers shooting in South Boulder.
“Gun violence continues to escalate in a maddening trend upward that is daunting to watch and horrific to experience. But shrugging or turning away and accepting a worsening status quo is not OK,” said Councilmember Rachel Friend, who helped lead the effort to pass the tougher gun laws.
The new ordinances ban the possession of semi-automatic assault rifles purchased after July 1, 2022. The laws also make it illegal to own rapid-fire trigger activators, large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition, and guns without serial numbers, often known as “ghost guns.” The legal age to possess any gun in Boulder is now 21. And the city now largely prohibits carrying firearms on city property, near polling locations and inside places licensed to serve alcohol.
The city’s gun shops will have to post the following signage: “WARNING: Access to a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, death during domestic violence disputes, and the unintentional death of children, household members, or others. If you or a loved one is experiencing distress and/or depression, call 1-844-493-8255.”
And in an effort to reduce suicides by firearms, anyone who wants to buy a gun in Boulder will have to wait 10 days after initiating a background check before they can bring the weapon home.
Similar measures also passed in the City of Louisville and Town of Superior. The City of Lafayette gave initial approval to a scaled-back package of gun measures, too. In neighboring Broomfield County, city Mayor Guyleen Castriotta said the city council has directed city staff to consider gun legislation for a discussion in September.
Last year, in response to a Boulder District Court ruling striking down the city’s 2018 assault-style weapons ban and the subsequent King Soopers shooting, Democratic state lawmakers amended a 2003 pro-gun law to allow local governments to approve stricter gun ordinances than the state’s.
The Boulder County communities are among the first to enact more stringent gun regulations under the new law. The Denver City Council last month passed new restrictions on carrying guns in parks and city buildings. Earlier this week, the Greenwood Village City Council passed an ordinance to prohibit people from selling guns out of their homes. Boulder County commissioners have said they, too, plan to pass new laws for unincorporated Boulder County.
While Denver also has an assault-style weapons ban, experts told the Boulder Reporting Lab they are not aware of any other municipalities in Colorado requiring a 10-day waiting period on gun sales, making the Boulder County laws likely the most restrictive in the state on this issue.
Such waiting periods are designed to prevent deaths by suicide involving a gun. Firearms are the most common means of suicide in Boulder County, according to the most recent data available from the state health department. In 2020, suicide involving a firearm accounted for 31 deaths in the county.
Some Boulder County local governments hold off on reforms
The regional effort sought to expand the scope of the gun safety measures across Boulder County. It was also intended to diffuse what many local officials expected would be an intense lobbying effort by gun-rights activists. (Only two men opposed the gun measures during Tuesday’s hour-long public hearing ahead of the Boulder City Council vote. Most of the supporters who testified were women, many of whom were mothers with children in local schools.)
The passage of the gun measures creates a buffer around the City of Boulder. But several Boulder County municipalities have less control over their border shared by Weld County, where county commissioners adamantly oppose such restrictions. (One was arrested in 2017 for bringing a loaded pistol into security at the Denver International Airport.) Meanwhile, Weld County Sheriff Steve Reams already vowed in 2019 not to enforce state gun laws.
Councilmembers in the City of Longmont, which borders Weld County, did not pass gun measures as part of the regional effort. Longmont has the most licensed gun dealers in Boulder County, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
And it would be easy for residents to bypass any regulations on the sale of firearms by crossing county lines, according to Longmont City Councilmember Marcia Martin, who sought to spearhead gun restrictions. Martin said Longmont also has a passionate — albeit minority — contingent of Second Amendment advocates often demonstrating downtown.
“Why tear the community up for something that would not be effective or enforceable?” Martin told the Boulder Reporting Lab in an email.
Similarly, in Lafayette, city councilmembers decided not to pass an ordinance to impose waiting periods on sales or to prohibit semi-automatic rifles and rapid-fire trigger activators. Lafayette is a 15-minute drive from Erie, a city in Weld County.
Lafayette Mayor JD Mangat said the city did not have enough city staff and resources to enforce an assault-style weapons ban. But he said the city may pursue additional measures in the future.
“Boulder is surrounded by communities that are similarly minded,” Mangat told the Boulder Reporting Lab. But “you can’t just copy and paste what Boulder is doing. We’re doing our best.”
‘Catalyst for change’
Instead of enacting its own local measure banning certain weapons, the Lafayette City Council adopted a resolution urging the state to pass stricter laws.
“A patchwork of differing local regulations is likely to cause confusion and unlikely to prevent bad actors from purchasing a firearm or ammunition in a jurisdiction with less restrictive regulations,” the resolution states. The city “implores the Colorado legislature to enact statewide regulations” on assault-style weapons, high-capacity magazines and firearm components and accessories, it adds.
Many gun-control advocates agree gun safety measures would be more effective at the state and federal levels. But they still support new restrictions in Boulder County.
“At this point inaction on our gun violence epidemic at any level is irresponsible,” Carol Callicotte-Belmon, an organizer with East Boulder County Moms Demand Action, said in an email to the Boulder Reporting Lab. “It is my belief that these laws can make a difference at the local level, especially around open and concealed carry in public and sensitive places.”
Allison Anderman, a policy director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, helped the City of Boulder write its new gun laws. She said local governments in places such as California have prompted the state legislature to later adopt similar measures.
“Local communities have often served as a catalyst for change,” Anderman told the Boulder Reporting Lab.
Taylor Rhodes, the executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a conservative pro-gun advocacy group, said his organization is considering whether to sue the local governments over the new ordinances. But Rhodes said his group is first waiting to see the outcome of pending gun-related lawsuits, including a case in New York that could have implications for carrying restrictions.
He also said the group is calling on sheriffs across the state to not enforce the gun measures. But that is unlikely to have an impact on what happens in Boulder County; both candidates running to replace Sheriff Joe Pelle, who is not seeking reelection, have expressed support for local firearm regulations. No Republican candidates for Boulder County sheriff are running in the June 28 primary.
Boulder city councilmembers originally hoped to pass the gun measures on the anniversary of the March 22, 2021 King Soopers shooting. But across the nation, there is no shortage of tragedies for them to point to as a reason for pursuing reforms.
Last weekend, at least nine people were killed in mass shootings in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virgina, Arizona and South Carolina. That comes after the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. The May 24, 2022 massacre is the nation’s second-deadliest elementary school shooting. And the vote comes just days ahead of the June 11 March For Our Lives, a national rally inspired by the Feb. 14, 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
“Last year, Boulder joined an ever-growing list of cities traumatized by mass shooting violence,” said Councilmember Friend before she read the names of those killed in the King Soopers shooting. “I hope that in taking this action we honor those 10 individuals, as well as all the others, both within and outside of Boulder, who have fallen victim to the gun-violence epidemic plaguing our country.”