Polis Signs Three New Gun Safety Laws Inspired By The Boulder Shooting

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
Flowers and messages, some spiritual and some political, at the makeshift memorial outside King Soopers on Boulder’s Table Mesa Drive, a week after a gunman opened fire in the store March 22, 2021, killing 10 people.

Updated at 2:20 p.m. on June 19, 2021

Gov. Jared Polis signed three new gun laws that were introduced at the legislature after the March shooting in Boulder at a King Soopers that left 10 people dead, including one police officer.

The three new laws will:

  • Create the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, aimed at preventing gun violence and making policy recommendations;
  • Prevent those convicted of certain violent misdemeanors from being able to purchase a firearm and close a loophole that allowed a gun purchase to move forward if a background check wasn't completed in three days;
  • And give local governments the ability to pass stricter gun laws than the state.

Despite some initial talks of an assault-style weapons ban, Democrats lacked support from key members to get any such proposal passed through the legislature.

Our original story follows below.

Colorado lawmakers have unveiled a package of bills in response to last month’s mass shooting in Boulder. The measures don’t go as far as some advocates for reforming gun policies had hoped, but supporters say they will make key changes to reduce gun violence and take effective steps to save lives.

“Coloradans want change. Coloradans have wanted change since 1999 after Columbine and in 2012 after the Aurora shooting, and they wanted change over the last month,” said Democratic Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg at a press conference to unveil the bills. “We hear you.” 

Fenberg, who represents the district in Boulder where the mass shooting occurred, is sponsoring a measure that would allow local communities to pass stricter gun laws than the state. That would make it possible for Boulder to re-enact a city-wide assault style weapons ban. A judge ruled last month that the local ban violated Colorado state law.

Another bill would expand the list of crimes that make people ineligible to buy a gun by adding some types of violent misdemeanors, including child abuse convictions, domestic violence and sexual assault. Unlike a felony record, which results in a lifetime ban on gun ownership, people would only be under the restriction for five years.

The man arrested for the King Soopers attack pled guilty to a violent misdemeanor in 2017.

The same bill would also close the “Charleston loophole,” a provision in state law which allows gun purchases to move forward after three days even if a background check isn’t yet complete. Democrats are pushing similar efforts at the federal level, but so far those have stalled. 

“I think people should be really excited that we have put together a package of bills that are absolutely going to save lives,” said Democratic Rep. Judy Amabile, who represents south Boulder in the House. She and other Democrats from the region originally wanted to pass a statewide ban on assault-style firearms, but there wasn’t enough support for that at the legislature.  On Thursday Amabile said she’s not disappointed to be taking a different approach. 

“I am just really happy that we're moving things forward.  And we've done that in a really thoughtful way and a very targeted way.”

A new gun violence prevention office

The final measure in the package would create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention "because we need to have data to drive informed decisions," said Democratic Sen. Rhonda Fields, one of the sponsors. The office would be housed in the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. It would make recommendations on policy changes and coordinate state funding for violence prevention efforts. 

“We’re talking about funding innovative projects that treat gun violence like the epidemic that it is,” said Democratic Rep. Tom Sullivan, who will sponsor that measure with Fields. Both lawmakers have lost children to gun violence; Fields’ son was murdered before he could testify as a witness in a murder trial and Sullivan’s son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting. 

The proposed office would also work to educate people about existing gun laws, such as the recently passed requirement that people safely store their firearms and report to police if they are lost or stolen. It would also conduct outreach to make families aware of Colorado’s so called “red flag” gun law.

The 2019 law allows law enforcement or family members to petition a court to temporarily remove someone’s firearms if that person appears to be a danger to themselves or others. 

Amabile said she hopes the office can research the effectiveness of Colorado’s gun laws, and tackle other questions too. 

“Why do we have such a high suicide rate here in Colorado? How do we address that? What are some other things that we haven't thought of that we should be doing?” she said.

Gun rights advocates not happy

No Republicans participated in the press conference at the Capitol when the proposals were unveiled. Even though the opposition won’t be nearly as intense as it would have been for an assault-style weapons ban bill, these measures will still face strong opposition, and long public hearings. 

Taylor Rhodes, with the gun rights group Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, tweeted that the measures were unnecessary, ineffective and unconstitutional. 

“Honoring others by denying God-given rights to law-abiding citizens is never a good idea,” Rhodes wrote. 

He also blasted the idea of an Office of Gun Violence Prevention. 

“This is just ridiculous. This would give the anti-gun lobby an OFFICIAL office in the capitol. no thanks.” 

Majority Leader Fenberg said the measures are expected to be formally introduced Thursday afternoon. 

“We're not at ‘mission completed and we're done’,” Fenberg said. “But I think that's actually the lesson to be learned. This has to be a comprehensive set of policies that work together and that are effective and evolve over time. There is not one policy solution. It has to be multifaceted because the causes of gun violence is multifaceted.” 

Ultimately he and other Democrats say the federal government must step up and make policy changes for the nation, so it’s not just states going their own ways in a piecemeal approach.