The mass shooting at a Boulder, Colorado, grocery store Monday night followed less than two weeks after a state judge overturned the liberal city’s ban on assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. The National Rifle Association had bragged that the judge had given gun enthusiasts “something to celebrate” when he ruled that the local restrictions conflicted with state law and “STRUCK THEM DOWN.”
The details of the shooting at the King Scoopers supermarket in Boulder are still emerging. The police have identified the 10 victims in the rampage, including a police officer, Eric Talley who rushed to the scene. The 21-year-old alleged gunman, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, has been charged with 10 counts of murder, and was reportedly shot in the leg.
According to his arrest warrant, Alissa “purchased a Ruger AR556 pistol on March 16, 2021,” although the document did not mention where the weapon was purchased. The Ruger AR-556 is variant of the AR-15 platform, and Ruger touts the model’s “Mil-Spec” — that is to say military specification — features. As Rolling Stone has detailed is the weapon of choice for mass shooters in America.
The legal landscape around restricting AR-15s and high capacity magazines is complex. Federal appeals court rulings have established that assault rifles bans do not violate the second amendment. There is some conflict in federal courts about the constitutionality of bans on high-capacity magazines — although Colorado’s statewide ban on magazines that can hold more than 15 bullets, passed in the wake of the Aurora shooting, was recently upheld. Donald Trump’s refashioning of the Supreme Court with three, young arch-conservative justices, however, means the high court is likely to look on such weapons restrictions with a jaundiced eye moving forward.
The local Boulder ban on assault weapons and large magazines was struck down on Friday, March 12th. The second amendment was not the concern here. The state judge ruled that the two-year-old local ordinance — passed after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida — conflicted with Colorado law that reserves weapons regulation for state authorities. (Even here the legal landscape is muddy; nearby Denver has a longstanding local assault weapons ban that withstood state supreme court scrutiny, in a split decision that did not establish a precedent.)
It’s not clear that the Boulder ordinance, had it been in effect, would have meaningfully deterred the gunman in this case. Police identified him as a resident of nearby Arvada. A gun purchased elsewhere in the state could easily have been brought to Boulder without detection. The case once again highlights that America’s threadbare and patchwork approach to gun regulation enables mass murderers. And the killing of a police officer in this case underscores the bankruptcy of the the NRA’s myth that the answer to bad guys with guns is good guys with guns.
Vice President Kamala Harris called the Boulder shooting “absolutely tragic.” Just weeks ago, marking the third anniversary of the Parkland shooting, the Biden administration vowed swift action to pass “commonsense gun law reforms, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and eliminating immunity for gun manufacturers who knowingly put weapons of war on our streets.”
That agenda still faces a formidable roadblock in Washington D.C. where the NRA remains a lobbying powerhouse. Just hours after the Boulder shooting, the NRA tweeted a defiant defense of gun rights, quoting the second amendment:
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