After Boulder, Rep. Joe Neguse Pushing For Federal Assault Weapons Ban, Other Reforms

March 26, 2021
Joe Neguse King Soopers vigil Boulder 210325Joe Neguse King Soopers vigil Boulder 210325Mark M Lorenz for CPR News
Congressman Joe Neguse (D-CO) speaks at the the Colorado chapter of Moms Demand Action's drive-in vigil honoring the victims of Monday's mass shooting at King Soopers, held at Fairview High School, Thursday, March 25, 2021.

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse, whose district includes Boulder where 10 people were killed in a mass shooting Monday, said he supports reinstating the federal ban on assault weapons.

“And I'm a co-sponsor of a bill that's pending before the House Judiciary Committee, a committee on which I serve,” Neguse told Colorado Matters.

The congressman said it’s important to be present with the community as it grieves. He also believes leaders need to take what he calls “the necessary steps to prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the future.”

“I've had a lot of conversations with constituents over the course of the last few days, and folks in Boulder are angry. They are frustrated that the federal government has really abdicated its role in protecting the lives of folks in our community and across our state,” Neguse said.

He points to a measure that would close loopholes in universal background checks for potential gun buyers. The House has already passed that measure and now it’s in the Senate. Neguse would also like the president to appoint a national director of gun violence prevention to address “what is clearly an epidemic in our country.” 

“We can take steps to save lives and it’s going to be a part of a comprehensive set of solutions I think we're going to have to bring to bear in Washington.”


Interview Highlights

On Closing The Background Check Loophole:

“There are obstacles in the United States Senate, but we shouldn't assume that our political institutions are impervious to public opinion. And certainly, my constituents are tired of excuses. So I will be reaching out to every United States Senator that I can talk to, to make the case for these reforms. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I think to the extent an archaic rule like the filibuster prevents us from taking decisive action that's broadly supported by the American public in this instance, then I think we ought to reform and eliminate that rule and that's something that I've been very vocal about along with many of my colleagues. So we'll continue to push every lever that we can.”

On A National Director Of Gun Violence Prevention:

“The empirical data shows that we have a gun violence crisis in the United States and that it is clear that so many are losing their lives across our country and in communities across our state. And we witnessed that of course here just this week in my home community of Boulder. I think that the crisis is a uniquely American one. As we look at other Western countries that do not have nearly the incidences of gun violence and homicides caused by a gun as we do here in the United States. So a director of gun violence prevention could bring federal resources to bear here in our state. And other states could lead a whole of government approach, a coordinated response with the various law enforcement agencies, like the ATF, the FBI, other entities within the Department of Justice, and also would be charged with working with the Congress on some of these proposals… I think it's necessary. I'm hopeful the president will agree.”


Read The Transcript

Ryan Warner: Congressman, welcome back to the program.

Rep. Joe Neguse: Thank you for having me Ryan.

RW: I'm sorry it's under these circumstances. How do you see your role right now in a community that's still very much in shock?

JN: Well, the most important thing that I can do Ryan right now as the representative for this community is to be present with the community as it's grieving. A lot of folks in our community are still in shock. It's been a devastating week for Boulder and our community is really focused right now on remembering the victims, on supporting the victims’ families, on supporting each other, the many survivors of the shooting at King Soopers, and you know, really healing together as we begin this grieving process. So supporting them in those efforts. And of course also ensuring that we take the steps necessary to prevent a tragedy like this from happening in the future. And so we're very focused on the legislative front of ensuring that we work to enacting the steps that we believe could potentially save lives.

RW: What’s the first step?

JN: Well, I'd say this, Ryan, I've had a lot of conversations with constituents over the course of the last few days. And folks in Boulder are angry. They are frustrated that the federal government has really abdicated its role in protecting the lives of folks in our community and across our state and there are a number of solutions that the federal government could pursue, that the Congress could pursue immediately, to save lives. The universal background check bill, closing the Charleston loophole, both of those bills are bills that the House of Representatives passed on a bipartisan basis that are now pending in the United States Senate, reinstating the federal assault weapons ban, which a you just play the audio clip of President Biden and his call for the Congress to do so, we previously had an assault weapons ban in the United States. It was a bill that passed on a bipartisan basis in 1994. I believe along with many of my colleagues, it's time to reinstate that ban. And I'm a co-sponsor of a bill that's pending before the House Judiciary Committee, a committee on which I serve. And I'm hopeful that we are able to make progress in that front as well. There are other steps that the president can take, including appointing a national director of gun violence to help address what is clearly an epidemic in our country. Myself and Lucy Macbeth, a colleague of mine from the state of Georgia who tragically lost her son to gun violence several years ago, led a letter of our colleagues to the president asking him to do so. So we're going to keep pushing. I think it's clear there's no panacea, but it is also clear that we can take steps to save lives. And it's going to be a part of a comprehensive set of solutions. I think we're going to have to, to bring to bear in Washington.

RW: Let's unpack some of that. So you mentioned the Charleston loophole, which allows a gun sale to proceed if results of a background check don't come back within three days. That's something you want to close. It's something that the House has sent to the Senate along with universal background checks. And so much of this is now in the Senate's hands. And of course, Democrats have a razor thin majority in that chamber. Is any of this legislatively possible, given the filibuster and walk us through how you see this proceeding?

JN: I think so Ryan. I'm optimistic that there's a path forward for several of these proposals. I would say first with respect to the two bills that you mentioned, both of those passed the House with bipartisan support. Republicans, several Republicans supporting those bills. Obviously as you said, there are obstacles in the United States Senate, but we shouldn't assume that our political institutions are impervious to public opinion. And certainly my constituents are tired of excuses. So I will be reaching out to every United States senator that I can talk to, to make the case for these reforms. Ultimately at the end of the day, I think to the extent an archaic rule like the filibuster prevents us from taking decisive action that's broadly supported by the American public in this instance, then I think we ought to reform and eliminate that rule. And that's something that I've been very vocal about along with many of my colleagues. So we'll continue to push every lever that we can.

RW: I'd like to just talk a little bit about this idea of having a national director of gun violence. One thing that I hear from gun rights activists is that any number of things can be a weapon. A car can be a weapon, a knife can be a weapon. Why should there be a specific role in the federal government that is directed at violence through one sort of tool?

JN: I would say that the empirical data shows that we have a gun violence crisis in the United States and that it is clear that so many are losing their lives across our country and in communities across our state and we witnessed that of course here just this week in my home community of Boulder. I think that the crisis is a uniquely American one. As we look at other Western countries that do not have nearly the incidences of gun violence and homicides caused by a gun as we do here in the United States. So a director of gun violence prevention could bring federal resources to bear here in our state and other States could lead a whole of government approach, a coordinated response with the various law enforcement agencies, like the ATF, the FBI, other entities within the Department of Justice, and also would be charged with working with the Congress on some of these proposals that you and I have discussed. I think it's necessary. I'm hopeful the president will agree.

RW: You're listening to Colorado matters. I'm Ryan Warner and rejoined in this part of the program by Congressman Joe Neguse, who represents Colorado's second congressional district, which includes Boulder, where the mass shooting happened Monday. He also represents Fort Collins and Vail. I am curious what you make of why these mass shootings continue to happen in Colorado. They are by no means exclusive to this state, but I think a lot of Coloradans and frankly, a lot of my friends and family who live elsewhere, keep presenting me with his question. Joe Neguse, do you have a sense of this?

JN: You know, Ryan, I've struggled with that question over the last 72 hours. I've lived in Colorado since I was six. I went to high school at a high school that was 10 minutes away from Columbine and was 14 years old in high school when that tragedy unfolded, when the mass shooting occurred and we lost so many members of our community then. My niece was a kindergartner at the STEM school in Highlands Ranch two years ago and I was frozen with the same fear that so many in Colorado experienced that day when I learned that she was being locked down as a kindergartner in her classroom. I don't have an answer as to why Colorado as you said while certainly mass shootings have not been exclusive to our state, but nonetheless there’ve been such a high incidence of these events, these tragedies unfolding in our state year after year, decade after decade. What I would say Ryan is that I think we have a responsibility, a unique responsibility to help lead the country as we try to chart a path forward as to how to make these events far less likely in the future. And that's what I'm certainly committed to doing with my colleagues.

RW: Let's spend just a little bit more time getting some details on what an assault weapons ban would look like. As our own Ben Markus has reported, the gun the alleged shooter bought before the attack looks like a rifle, but is regulated as a pistol. The Ruger AR556 pistol. The classification is just squishy. Do you believe it should be illegal, this particular firearm? And if so, like, how do you define what's allowed and what's not?

JN: Yes. So I would refer you to the proposed resolution of the ban that's been proposed by Representative Cicilline that's pending in the Congress. We believe under the legislation that's been drafted that it would apply to the particular weapon that was purchased in this case. Obviously, as you know, there's still a lot of facts that we are learning practically on Monday as to the particular weapon that was used. But as you said, the weapon that was identified in the arrest affidavit released by the Boulder Police that the defendant purchased allegedly several days before the shooting, we believe would be covered under the assault weapons ban as proposed by representative Cicilline. The bill is very detailed and comprehensive in scope. It identifies a wide range of weapons that would be characterized as assault weapons under the federal law, and would therefore be banned.

RW: Congressman new gurus when it comes to gun legislation, who do you turn to for information for expertise? I mean, who has your ear? In other words.

JN: You know we’ve, this is not an issue that is new to us or to my office and we've been working on these issues for many years and I serve on the Judiciary Committee, as I mentioned, which is the committee of jurisdiction for gun violence measures as well as criminal law more generally. I turn to folks in my community, to experts on gun violence, various academics, to law enforcement, and I’ve certainly visited with the law enforcement in my community with respect to some of these proposals, and with citizens, with my constituents, with those who have been impacted, with survivors, many others who have experienced the pain and the loss and the anguish that comes from losing a family member or a loved one to gun violence.

RW: Before we wrap up, should mental health be a part of this discussion?

JN: Absolutely. Absolutely. As I said at the outset, I don't believe there is a panacea to addressing the gun violence crisis in America. I think it's going to take a comprehensive approach, multiple different proposals with respect to gun violence, addressing the mental health crisis in our country. We're going to have to make sure we don't look at this in a myopic way, and I'm certainly committed to pursuing every single solution that will ultimately save lives.

RW: Ken Buck and Lauren Boebert, Republican members of Colorado's Congressional delegation, are pretty outspoken gun rights activists. Lastly, have you spoken with either of them since the shooting and if so, what do those conversations sound like?

JN: I haven't spoken with either of them. I've spoken with many colleagues from across the country, Republican and Democratic members of Congress who called me, including the Speaker of the House and others, to express their condolences and have had some meaningful conversations with colleagues, again on both sides of the aisle with respect to some of the proposals that I just mentioned, but I have not spoken to those two members that you mentioned.

RW: Thank you so much for your time. Appreciate it.

JN: Thank you.