Boulder's assault weapons ban was blocked by a judge 10 days before supermarket shooting

Ten days before a gunman opened fire on Monday at a Boulder, Colo., supermarket, a judge knocked down the city’s ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Ten people were killed at King Soopers grocery store near the University of Colorado, including a police officer, before the suspect was injured and taken into custody.

As of Tuesday morning, police have yet to release details on the suspect or the weapon used in the shooting, and it’s unclear if the ban would have covered the gun involved. But the court’s move is striking in its recency, especially after a law enforcement official told CNN that an AR-15-style rifle was used in Boulder. The same type of weapon was used in a number of recent mass shootings, including in Parkland, Fla., in 2018, Las Vegas in 2017, Orlando in 2016 and Newtown, Conn., in 2012.

In 2018, following the Parkland shooting, which killed 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Boulder City Council banned the sale and possession of assault weapons. Those who owned the guns had a year to either sell them, turn them in to the city, destroy them or acquire a permit. Shortly after the law passed, the law was challenged by the National Rifle Association’s Colorado affiliate, along with a Boulder gun store and two residents.

“I hope and pray we never have a mass shooting in Boulder,” City Attorney Tom Carr told the Daily Camera in March 2018. “What this ordinance is about is reducing, on the margins, the ease with which somebody could do that.”

Police guard people who were evacuated after reports of an active shooter at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Monday. (Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network via Reuters)
Police guard people who were evacuated after reports of an active shooter at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Monday. (Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network via Reuters)

On March 12, Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled that the city’s ban on the possession, transfer or sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines was invalid and that local municipalities couldn’t issue such bans. Critics of such local ordinances also argue that the bans are ineffective because people can get around them by traveling a short distance to where they are no longer in effect.

“The city of Boulder’s assault weapons and (large-capacity magazine) ban could create a ripple effect across the state by encouraging other municipalities to enact their own bans, ultimately leading to a statewide de facto ban or to a patchwork of municipal laws regulating assault weapons and LCMs,” Hartman wrote in his order.

The city told police to stop enforcing the ban as it deliberated whether to appeal the ruling to the Colorado State Supreme Court. There was also a federal lawsuit pending against the ordinance.

The NRA lauded Hartman’s ruling, tweeting, “ICYMI: A Colorado judge gave law-abiding gun owners something to celebrate. In an [NRA Institute for Legislative Action]-supported case, he ruled that the city of Boulder’s ban on commonly-owned rifles (AR-15s) and 10+ round mags was preempted by state law and STRUCK THEM DOWN.”

Emergency crews respond to a call of an active shooter at the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colo., on Monday. (Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network via Reuters)
Emergency crews at King Soopers grocery store in Boulder on Monday. (Michael Ciaglo/USA Today Network via Reuters)

Monday's shooting came less than a week after a gunman in the Atlanta area killed eight people, including six Asian women, at three separate locations. That weapon was not an AR-15-style rifle: The alleged shooter legally purchased a 9 mm handgun shortly before the shooting.

According to the Associated Press, the Boulder shooting was the seventh mass killing this year, defined as four or more dead, not including the shooter. The Boulder and Atlanta shootings follow the lowest yearly number of such attacks in a decade in 2020, which was marked by pandemic and quarantine.

“This is a tragedy and a nightmare for Boulder County,” the county's district attorney, Michael Dougherty said. “These were people going about their day, doing their shopping. I promise the victims and the people of the state of Colorado that we will secure justice.”

Earlier this month, Democrats and eight Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives passed two gun safety measures that would expand background checks. The legislation’s fate in the U.S. Senate is murky, as activists hope to pressure President Biden into action.

"It remains a commitment, a personal commitment of the president's, to do more on gun safety, to put more measures in place, to use the power of the presidency, to work with Congress. And certainly there's an important role for the attorney general and the Justice Department to play in this regard," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week following the Atlanta shooting.


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