Boulder proposes suite of gun control legislation

Photo by Will Porada on Unsplash

Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022

Under a new state law that grants cities more authority to regulate firearm sales and possession, Boulder is bringing back its 2018 ban on assault weapons — struck down by Colorado courts last year — and adding a half-dozen new regulations in a multi-city attempt to curb gun violence.

As ever with gun control, the proposals are already being met with threat of legal action from gun owners who successfully defeated the city’s first attempt to dictate what type of firearms residents were allowed to own.

But city leaders are bolstered by state support for local legislation, as well as the collective energy of a coordinated regional approach and the memory of a mass shooting close to home made fresh by the reopening of the grocery store where 10 people were killed.

“As we look to the year anniversary where we lost 10 great members of our community,” councilman Matt Benjamin said Tuesday night, “this is a great step for us to show we’re committed to a safe and civil society.”

Waiting period, health warning among proposals

Boulder first passed a prohibition on assault weapons in May 2018 by a unanimous vote of city council. At the time, activists and elected officials were motivated by the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

The ban was challenged within weeks by Boulder-based Gunsport and the NRA-affiliated Colorado Shooting Association. A district court judge ruled the law unconstitutional 10 days before the Table Mesa King Soopers shooting. (The weapon was purchased legally in Arvada by a resident of that city.) Boulder’s appeal was dismissed with prejudice in December, meaning it could not be refiled.

State legislators in 2021 passed their own set of gun control measures, one of which ended a pre-emption on municipal legislation. That paved the way for a redo of Boulder’s assault weapons ban.

On Tuesday, the night before King Soopers reopened to shoppers in south Boulder, city council got its first look at a new set of proposed legislation, which city spokesperson Sarah Huntley said were modeled on legislation from the Giffords Law Center and Everytown for Gun Safety.

View a presentation with the proposals
Read a thread of Tuesday’s discussion

Raising the age limit for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21

This is already the law in Boulder, but the code language needs updated, city officials said.

Nationally, it is illegal for 18-20 year olds to purchase handguns from licensed dealers. They may buy them from private parties.

Instituting a 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases

The 10-day period would begin once a background check is initiated, according to city language. Many exemptions are included: for law enforcement and military but also for transfers between licensed sellers, transport, repair, etc.

Prohibition on open carry

This would ban the carrying of visible firearms in public places, except for in a vehicle, locked case or with a concealed carry permit. As with many other proposals, exemptions for military members and law enforcement are included.

Disallowing concealed carry in “sensitive” areas

Open and concealed carry would be banned in city buildings; public parks; playgrounds; city recreation and/or community centers; protests held on public property; within 500 feet of ballot counting or polling places; at “licensed premises for alcohol sellers” such as bars or liquor stores; hospitals; mental health or substance abuse treatment centers; stadiums or arenas; banks; theaters; day care centers and preschools. This would not apply to firearms in vehicles, a form of concealed carry under some laws.

Places of worship could be exempt from the concealed carry ban, city attorney Luis Toro said, if they so choose.

Though not included in Tuesday’s presentation, city council members requested a specific exemption for private security guards.

“In today’s world,” councilman Mark Wallach said, “there are institutions that may want to have a meaningful security presence.”

Requiring firearm sellers to post a health warning on premises

For decades, the U.S. has required cigarette packaging and advertising to include a warning about the impact of smoking on health. Boulder is taking that idea and applying it to places where guns are sold.

Under this proposal, any licensed dealer would have to have signage on-site that reads: “WARNING: Access to a firearm in the home significantly increases the risk of suicide, death during domestic violence disputes and the unintentional death of children, household members or others.”

The number and/or website for a national mental health or suicide hotline would also be mandated on signage.

Banning ‘ghost’ guns

Guns without a serial number would not be allowed in Boulder, with exemptions for antiques or any firearm manufactured before Oct. 22, 1968 — when federal authorities began requiring serial numbers on new guns.

Little love for gun store rules

Council members supported all the above proposals as well as the reintroduced assault weapons ban. As in 2018, residents already possessing such weapons would be grandfathered in. Residents were required to certify prior ownership with Boulder Police Department, which does not keep records of weapons other than a hand count of total numbers.

Weapons that were certified in 2018 would not need to re-certify, city attorneys said Tuesday. Council would determine a new certification deadline in the event of a reinstated assault weapons ban, according spokeswoman Huntley.

The updated prohibition on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines “is similar to what Boulder enacted in 2018,” staff wrote. It also includes trigger activators (which increase the rate of fire) and a new provision that gun owners whose weapons are used in a crime can be held liable for damages in civil court.

A civil liability clause was also proposed for any gun or ammo sellers who violate local, state or federal law if a person is injured as a result.

That was part of a package of regulations aimed at firearm and ammunition dealers. Among the suggested requirements were local permits, safe storage, video surveillance and detailed customer records, including thumbprints.

It was the only proposal that did not garner majority council support. Officials were concerned that the laws would be impractical or impossible to enforce given limited city resources.

“I’m concerned we are putting laws on the books that we may not have the manpower (or) the expertise to enforce,” said councilwoman Junie Joseph. “I feel we are crossing over the role of ATF” (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives).

Councilwoman Rachel Friend, a leading proponent of gun control on council, said she would not support this measure unless city staff found it feasible to ensure compliance.

A city spokesperson said officials did not know how many firearm or ammunition sellers were operating in the city. There appear to be two, both located downtown: Gunsport and Bison Tactical.

Representatives from the stores deferred comment to their legal representation.

Lawsuits: Ongoing and promised

Both stores were involved in the legal challenge to Boulder’s first assault weapons ban. A lawyer for them, Cody Wisniewski with Mountain States Legal Foundation, said that while the state case was resolved, a federal challenge is pending.

That case “argues much broader violations of Boulder residents’ federal constitutionally protected rights (as opposed to just state law arguments),” Wisniewski wrote in response to emailed questions. “We are currently evaluating our position in that case and deciding what next steps are appropriate.”

Wisniewski also raised the specter of additional action if these proposals are enacted.

“If the city does attempt to reimpose a ban on individuals’ right to defend themselves, their loved ones, and their communities,” he wrote, “we will again do what we can to stand up for those individuals’ right to possess some of the most common self-defense tools in the nation.”

Despite Boulder’s Democratic leanings, there is strong local interest in gun ownership. The Boulder Rifle Club claims an eight-year waitlist for new members; the University of Colorado has a student sport shooting organization. In 2018, Boulder police certified 342 assault weapons in the city, spokeswoman Huntley wrote in response to emailed questions.

Debates surrounding the 2018 ban were fierce and passionate. City council made its decision before a packed chamber, with overflow crowds in the lobby. Due perhaps in part to NRA interest in the ban, emails poured in from around the country.

So did the death threats. Elected officials decried violent and inflamed rhetoric from the dais before casting their votes.

Current council members are prepping for more of the same this time around.

“Having done gun violence prevention work” as an activist, said councilwoman Friend, who was not an elected official in 2018, “I’m very aware of how much negativity and harassment comes with this” — particularly to female leaders and politicians.

“I don’t know that I can do anything to prepare for that. I’m aware that it will come.”

Timing TBD

When the public process will begin is still unclear. At least one public hearing will be scheduled before council votes. Hearings may take place in other municipalities considering the measures.

Boulder city council members previously expressed a desire to pass the new laws on March 22, the one-year anniversary of the King Soopers shooting. But council is in recess that week for spring break; at least one council member indicated previous plans to travel during that time.

Staff previously said passage may coincide with action by other local governments. Collaboration and timing were not discussed Tuesday.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

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1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. A lot of nonsense laws that will do nothing.

    I do have a question though on the waiting period. If a person already has a firearm, what will the waiting period do? When they go to buy another one will that magically make the current firearm owned inoperable? All of these new laws seem to require magic to work, so that must be what it is.

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