Leaders vow to pursue gun control, mental health tax at emotional council meeting

Photo by Zack Butler

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Elected officials at all levels of government vowed to pursue gun control and more robust mental health services this week at an emotional city council meeting attended by dozens of faith leaders and community members in the wake of Monday’s shooting. The murder of 10 people revived a familiar and, some said, tired debate over gun violence.

“I’m the generation that learned to hide in our classroom,” said Adam Swetlik, the youngest member of Boulder’s city council. “When I hear our elected officials speak after these (shootings), I hear the exact same things. The only things that change are the dates, the place and the names of the victims.

“The one thing I hear that I don’t agree with is that we can’t allow this to be normal. This is normal. Right now, there are few things more American or Coloradan than gun violence.”

The last-minute meeting, held Wednesday, began with a reading of the victims names: Tralona Bartkowiak, Suzanne Fountain, Teri Leiker, Kevin Mahoney, Lynn Murray, Rikki Olds, Neven Stanisic, Denny Stong, Officer Eric Talley and Jody Waters.

In attendance were all nine members of city council, Governor Jared Polis, state senator Stephen Fenberg, state representative Edie Hooton and U.S. Congressman Joe Neguse. Boulder Mayor Sam Weaver shared that he received a phone call from President Joe Biden, who also pledged to pursue stronger background checks and a nationwide ban on assault weapons.

Read a Twitter thread of Wednesday’s meeting

Councilwoman Rachel Friend made three explicit asks of state leaders: a statewide ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; overturning laws that prevent local governments from enacting stricter gun laws; and adding violent misdemeanors to the list of crimes that preclude guns ownership.

“Cheerleading (federal) legislation doesn’t cut it,” she later tweeted. “We can say WITH CERTAINTY that if you don’t act, another mass shooting will occur in CO. Period.”

Boulder passed an assault weapons ban in 2018 making such firearms — including the Ruger AR-556 recovered at the scene — illegal to sell or possess within city limits. The ordinance was recently blocked by a district court, which ruled that municipalities cannot preempt state law.

Fenberg called Boulder’s ban “inadequate” — that same day, he told Colorado Newsline it would have not stopped the shooting — but said such laws are an important step to take.

“There’s obviously not a single solution,” Fen-berg said Wednesday night, “but that can’t keep us from seeking solutions and taking steps that will make our community safer. At the state level … we are eager to have those conversations. I can’t say with any confidence that I know what is going to happen (but) everything is going to be on the table.”

The shooter had previously been convicted of third-degree assault for attacking a classmate, a misdemeanor which does not prevent someone from buying a gun. The firearm was purchased six days before the shooting, Denver Post reported.

9News’ Jeremy Jojola reported late Friday that the shooter passed a background check; misdemeanors do not prohibit gun ownership, unless for domestic violence. The weapon was purchased from a shop in Arvada near a restaurant owed by the suspect’s family, according to Jojola.

Charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder, the suspect appeared in court Thursday morning. Defense attorneys asked for more time to assess his mental health. He has been transferred to a facility outside Boulder County due to threats, the Daily Camera‘s Mitchell Byars reported.

Leaders addressed mental health during Wednesday’s meeting. Rep. Judy Amabile (D13) said that Boulder County leaders would put a tax to fund mental health services on the ballot in 2022.

Colorado is in the bottom half of states when it comes to access to mental health care and rates of illness, according to Mental Health America. The state and Denver metro also have among the most shootings per capita in the United States, a 2019 Denver Post analysis revealed.

Monday’s shooting was the deadliest in Boulder County history, the Daily Camera reported, and had more victims than any modern mass shooting in the state other than Columbine (1999) and the Aurora theater shooting (2012). Though “mass shooting” does not have an agreed-upon or legal definition, Denver Post reported that 47 people have died in seven such incidents — defined as four or more deaths, not including the gunman, in a public place — since 1993.

“We have failed,” Mayor Weaver said, acknowledging Swetlik’s comments with an apology to “the younger generation. We have failed in vision, we have failed in willpower, we have failed in execution.”

Mental Health resources

From the American Counseling Association
– Pay attention to your feelings
– Practice self-care and maintain as normal a routine as possible
– Recognize that you (and others) need extra support
– Limit your media consumption
– Talk about it: With friends, family, your therapist

How to explain the shooting to your kids

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746

Mental Health Partners: Call (303) 443-8500? to schedule and appointment of visit the Walk-In clinic: 3180 Airport Road. Community Health Workers are available for virtual services on Facebook or via mhpcolorado.org

More local resources

— Shay Castle, boulderbeatnews@gmail.com, @shayshinecastle

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