At Boulder roundtable, top House Democrat calls for ‘righteous intensity’ in combating gun violence

Hakeem Jeffries
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of N.Y., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 14, 2023.

The top Democrat in the U.S House was at the University of Colorado Boulder on Monday to hear from violence prevention advocates about the root causes of gun violence, and what they see as the roadblocks and workable solutions for addressing it.  

House Minority leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York joined Congressman Joe Neguse for the roundtable discussion with community leaders and those working to pass stricter gun laws. It’s part of a quick August recess swing through Colorado that also includes events with Democratic congresswomen Brittany Pettersen and Yadira Caraveo. 

Jeffries said the stressors facing young people have existed for decades, but were exacerbated by the pandemic. He called for urgency in finding solutions, including passing tougher gun laws, a nonstarter in the Republican-controlled House.

“We got diabolical intensity on the other side. I say to folks back in Washington, we have to be prepared to match and exceed that diabolical intensity with righteous intensity.” 

Jeffies says he feels some slight optimism that Congress can find some common ground, especially after last year’s passage of the bipartisan SAFER Communities Act, which put new money into mental health, school safety programs and suicide prevention. But he said there is still a lot more work to be done to make America safer, and said it will take a partnership from all levels of government. 

Bente Birkeland/CPR News
House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries of New York (center) participates in a roundtable on gun violence at CU Boulder, August 21, 2023.

“We have to find a path forward to confront the gun violence epidemic that has hit you here in this community hard,” said Jeffries. “It's a national problem. And so we need a national solution.”

In discussing the root causes of gun violence, Dr. Beverly Kingston from CU’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, turned to the metaphor of an iceberg. She said homicides, suicides and mass shootings are just what’s visible above the water’s surface. 

“And below that… that's where we see bullying. We see physical fights,” she said. “We unfortunately see many mental health concerns.”

Kingston said she was alarmed to see recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control that   indicated a high percentage of high school students have seriously considered suicide in the past year. 

 If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, please contact the Colorado Crisis Services at 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 

In recent years the Democrats who control Colorado’s government have passed a number of stricter gun laws including expanding the Extreme Risk Protection Orders that can temporarily remove someone’s firearms if they pose a risk to themselves or others. 

Earlier this year Colorado also increased the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, but it’s on hold after a court blocked it with a preliminary injunction

The judge wrote Colorado’s law “likely causes a violation of the Individual Plaintiffs’ individual constitutional rights,” resulting in “irreparable injury.”

The order’s reasoning draws from the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Bruen ruling, which rewrote the standard for judging whether a gun law passes constitutional muster. And it suggests the courts may curtail Colorado Democrats’ broader gun reform efforts.

In Bruen, the high court concluded that a government must prove there is historical precedent for any new proposals restricting access to firearms.

State lawmakers are still working on ideas for the next legislative session, which could include trying to bring back a proposal to ban assault weapons. That measure failed in its first committee earlier this year.