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Colorado Democrats Consider Ban On Assault Weapons After Mass Shooting

Colorado could be the next state to consider a ban on "assault-style" weapons, Colorado Public Radio has learned, although discussions are still in the preliminary stages at the state capitol and no legislation has been introduced yet.

Ten people were killed in Monday's mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder and state lawmakers are grappling with what else could be done to prevent these types of shootings from happening. In Colorado, Democrats control the legislative and executive branches of the state government.

"I'm devastated," says Democratic Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg. He was born and raised in Boulder and represents the state Senate district where the shooting occurred.

"This is my grocery store. This is blocks from where my wife teaches middle school and her students go on their lunch break," says Fenberg. "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."

Fenberg and other Democratic state leaders say they are eager for a federal assault weapons ban. Even though President Biden called for that on Tuesday, Fenberg isn't optimistic Congress will act. The U.S. Senate is currently considering two less sweeping measures.

"There's no question that the real solution has to come from the federal government. A patchwork of laws is better than nothing, but clearly, if someone is intent on causing harm and we have strict regulations in Colorado, somebody can drive an hour and a half to Wyoming," says Fenberg. "The point is to not end gun violence tomorrow, but to prevent some of these tragedies from happening and making it so we can go longer than a week before the next tragedy."

Gun laws Colorado has passed so far

Colorado has already passed several gun laws within the last decade: a high-capacity magazine ban, universal background checks and a so-called "red flag" gun law. Opponents of stricter laws say those measures infringe on Second Amendment rights, placing burdens on law-abiding gun owners, while failing to prevent mass shootings.

Historically, opponents of bans on specific types of weapons have criticized them as unenforceable and often out of touch with the nuances of firearm styles.

"We haven't seen any bill text from Democrats on assault weapons, but I will say that we find bans to be ineffective and that they end up punishing good, law-abiding Coloradans," says Republican Sen. John Cooke, a former sheriff.

According to Cooke, Senate Republicans plan to respond to the Boulder shooting by pushing for a "massive investment" in mental health services.

"Something is troubled in the collective American psyche," says state Sen. Paul Lundeen, a Republican. "People are hurting — and we need to do all we can to address that."

Republican state Rep. Matt Soper says that after the Boulder shooting, he started to hear chatter about a possible bill to ban certain types of guns statewide. He said there would be strong opposition from the GOP.

"We shouldn't have a knee-jerk reaction to these tragedies," he says, warning such a ban would likely be unconstitutional. "The political divide has grown even wider on the issue of guns and there's a lot of emotion involved on both sides."

Colorado's own constitution protects individual gun ownership: "The right of no person to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or in aid of the civil power when thereto legally summoned, shall be called in question."

However, the state Supreme Court has upheld past gun laws as legal under that provision.

Two gun bills are making their way through this year's legislative session. One proposal would require safe storage of firearms in many instances and the other would require people to report lost and stolen guns. Both have passed their first chamber, so far on almost entirely on party-line votes.

The Boulder shooting is the largest mass shooting in Colorado since 2012. The state has some of the highest numbers of mass shootings in the country, beginning in 1999 with the attack on Columbine High School.

Copyright 2021 CPR News

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.

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