Apr 2, 2021 | NEWS | By Evan Rao | Photos by Isaac Yee

After the horrific events that unfolded at a King Soopers in Boulder, Colo. on March 22, many people across the country are left wondering what, if anything, will spark a change in the way we regulate assault weapons. Questioning whether change is even possible has become all too familiar to Coloradans, who have had to live through a staggering seven mass shootings since 1993.

As it has been in the aftermath of each of those shootings, the question now is this: What will it take to stop the amount of mass shootings in this country? Three years ago, the city of Boulder thought it had an answer to this question. In response to the sheer frequency of shootings in Colorado, the city voted to ban assault weapons. This decision was monumental, and reflected years of work from organizers and widespread public support.

However, just 10 days before the King Soopers shooting, a court reversed the ban. Judge Andrew Hartman, the Boulder County District Court Judge, justified the reversal by stating that “only Colorado state or federal law can prohibit the possession, sale, and transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.” Essentially, his opinion was that localities like Boulder have no right to regulate assault weapons themselves and must wait for action at the state or federal level.

The King Soopers shooter did not buy his weapon in Boulder, but rather elsewhere in the state. Republican leaders often use this point as proof that assault weapon bans are ineffective, arguing that every citizen is entitled to access to guns under the second amendment, and consequently that banning assault weapons in individual cities is both unconstitutional and inconsequential.

Republican state representative Matt Soper characterized the Democratic party’s response to the tragedy as a “knee-jerk reaction” and advocated for investment in mental health services rather than weapon regulation.

Colorado Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg had a markedly different response to the shooting. A resident of Boulder County, Fenberg offered that “this is my grocery store. This is blocks away from where my wife teaches middle school, and her students go on lunch break. It is my job to solve solutions through policy. And that’s why it’s not too soon. It’s frankly too late, especially for these 10 innocent lives.”  

He and other Democratic leaders, both in the state and nationally, are advocating for a federal assault weapons ban. Twenty-five years ago we had just that: a federal assault weapons ban known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Act. The act prohibited the manufacturing or selling of assault weapons to civilians. It also banned magazines that held more than 10 rounds. President Biden, then senator, was a strong advocate for the ban.

However, after 10 years the ban expired due to a legislative provision, and the majority Republican senate under George Bush elected not to renew it. The overall efficacy of the ban is unclear, as the data from the 10 years ago it was enacted gets muddled in what exactly constitutes a mass shooting or assault weapon. However, assault weapons are clearly an accelerant of violence in our current era of mass shootings.

According to a Politico poll, seven in 10 voters support a ban on assault-style weapons. Precedents such as the 2018 Boulder Assault Weapons ban, and the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Act, suggests such a ban may again be possible. Looking forward, Coloradans must ask themselves whether this tragic cycle of mass shootings is inevitable.

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