A deeper look at Boulder’s gun control measures

A sign at the site of the King Soopers shooting in Boulder. Photo by Zack Butler

Saturday, May 7, 2022

Boulder, as part of a coordinated regional effort, is looking at a half-dozen new laws aimed at curbing gun violence. A final vote is scheduled for June 7; three hours have been set aside for a public hearing.

City council earlier this year first discussed the idea of bringing back a 2018 ban on assault weapons, struck down by a court in March 2021, just days before the King Soopers shooting. A change in state law now allows local measures to surpass Colorado restrictions “in certain cases.”

“The primary change enacted to comport with state law is the removal of language providing that lack of knowledge of the illegal characteristics of a firearm is not a defense,” staff explained in notes to council. Colorado law now states that local ordinances on the sale, purchase or possession of guns “may only impose a criminal penalty for a violation upon a person who knew or reasonably should have known that the person’s conduct was prohibited.”

Boulder’s proposed ordinances were released Thursday evening. Very little changed from council’s February discussion. The assault weapons ban is there, along with a 10-day waiting period to purchase firearms, a ban on open carry in public places and restrictions on concealed carry in “sensitive places” such as city facilities, protests, churches, preschools, etc. (Find a full explanation of proposed laws below)

Gone is a suite of regulations for sellers of firearms, which city officials earlier this year said would be too difficult and costly to enforce. Gun stores (there are two in Boulder) will still be required to post signage warning about the dangers of firearms.

A meta-analysis published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that access to a gun doubles a person’s risk of death by firearm homicide, and triples a person’s risk of death by firearm suicide,” staff wrote. “A study published in the American Journal of Public Health concluded that access to a firearm during an incident of domestic violence leads to a fivefold risk of homicide to women by their intimate partner.”

Notes to council are stuffed full of research like that above. The ordinances themselves — stretched across 46 pages — contain dozens of footnotes with evidence supporting the proposals.

Regarding signage: “Studies have also found a strong correlation between point-of-sale health warnings and consumer perception and behavior,” notes read, making comparisons to warning labels on tobacco products, calorie postings on menu items and even point-of-sale messaging about sugary drinks, which “significantly lowered consumption.” 

On waiting period for purchase: “These laws have been shown to reduce firearm suicides by up to 11%” and homicides by 17%. Footnotes also highlighted the prevalence of mandatory waiting periods, which are enacted in nine states and the District of Colombia, as well as the high support among Americans for such policies. “A 2020 study found that … 85% of non-gun owners and 72% of gun owners support mandatory waiting periods for firearm purchases (and) a 2017 poll found that 75% of Americans favor a 30-day waiting period for firearm purchases.”

On raising the age limit to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, which was part of the 2018 law: “Individuals 18 to 20 commit gun homicides at rates four times higher than those 21 and older. … Evidence shows that the firearm suicide rate among young men increases 26.9% between the ages of 20 and 21.”

About the original assault weapons and large-capacity magazine ban, staff cited the decade in which a federal assault weapons ban was in place, from 1994 to 2004. Congress allowed the ban to lapse in 2004.

During the 10-year period the law was in effect, mass shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur compared to when the ban wasn’t in effect. The number of high-fatality mass shootings fell by 37%, and the number of people dying in such shootings fell by 43%.”

Between 2015 and 2018, an average of 38,826 people died in the U.S. each year as a result of firearms, according to the CDC, and 76,127 people were non-fatally injured each year.

The ordinances also include a civil liability clause for any gun owner whose weapon is used in a crime, and a severability clause in the event that a court again rules portions of the new laws unconstitutional.

Lawyers who challenged the previous ban have already vowed legal action if necessary.

“We will be closely monitoring this process as the city council considers repassing ordinances that were previously struck down by a Colorado state court as well as new ordinances that, as currently written, would further disarm peaceable Coloradans,” wrote Cody Wisniewski, of the Mountain States Legal Foundation of the Center to Keep and Bear Arms, via email in response to a request for comment.

“Everyone in Boulder has the right to be able to protect their lives and their loved ones, and these ordinances, as currently proposed, will prevent people from keeping themselves and their families safe,” Wisniewski wrote. “The firearms Boulder seeks to ban are lawfully possessed by millions of Americans in 44 states — including Colorado.

“We remain committed to defending all Coloradans right to possess some of the most common self-defense tools in the nation.”

Boulder had footnotes for that argument, too, setting the stage for the debate council is likely to witness during the June 7 public hearing:

“Research published in Injury Prevention found that people living in households with firearms misperceive their risk of firearm injury as compared to people living in households without firearms,” staff wrote. “Firearms owners, and non-owners living with firearm owners, are 60% and 46% (respectively) less likely to worry about firearm injury as compared to respondents without guns in the home, despite evidence that firearm access in the home is a strong risk factor for firearm injury.

“A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that in King County, Washington, using data from 2011 to 2018, for every self-defense homicide, there were 44 suicides, seven criminal homicides, and one unintentional death.”

The ordinances will be introduced to council on Tuesday, with a final vote scheduled for June 7. Sign-ups to speak at the public hearing will open Thursday, June 2.

What’s in Boulder’s gun control ordinances?

1.) Repealing past laws and reinstituting a ban on sale and possession of assault weapons, large-capacity magazines (over 10 rounds) and trigger activators. Raising the age of purchase from 18 to 21.

A 2013 state law bans magazines that hold 15 rounds or more; Boulder’s 10-round limit was therefore ruled unconstitutional. The 2018 Boulder law also banned bump stocks, which increase the frequency of fire. Bump stocks were federally banned on March 26, 2019.

2.) Repealing and reenacting ban on possession of firearms in sensitive areas, defined as “city facilities, polling locations, and places where public demonstrations” are occurring. Guns are also banned “without express permission from the owner” in “places licensed to serve alcohol, hospitals, facilities providing mental health or substance abuse services, places of worship, sporting venues, courthouses, financial institutions, day care centers and preschools, and grocery stores.” 

This does not apply to law enforcement, military personnel during official duties, private security guards or guns left in cars.

3.) A ban on “ghost guns” — that is, guns without a serial number. Federal law requires all firearms manufactured since Oct. 22, 1968, to include serial numbers. The advent of 3D printing allowed parts to be printed and firearms assembled with no serial numbers.

On April 11 of this year, the Department of Justice “announced that it is enacting a regulatory change to require serial numbers on parts in gun assembly kits and on 3-D printed firearms.”

4.) No open carry in public areas. Firearms must be kept “unloaded and locked in a carrying case that is recognizable as a gun carrying case by a reasonable person. It excepts firearms for use in target shooting, the carrying of firearms in private means of transportation, and carrying firearms on one’s own property, business, or home or on other property with permission from the property owner.”

Again, exemptions are made for law enforcement, military personnel, hunting and target shooting.

5.) Require the following health disclosure to be posted in places where guns are sold:

“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. If you or a loved one is experiencing distress and/or depression, call 1-844-493-8255. Posted pursuant to Section 5-8-40, B.R.C. 1981.”

As an alternative, council could require people buying guns “to sign an acknowledgment of receipt of the information contained in the proposed signage.”

6.) 10-day waiting period for purchase of a firearm, following initiation of a background check. This does not apply for private security personnel obtaining a gun for the purposes of employment, or to customers remitting a firearm for cleaning or repair.

— Shay Castle, @shayshinecastle

Help make the Beat better. Was there a perspective we missed, or facts we didn’t consider? Email your thoughts to boulderbeatnews@gmail.com

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1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Same old anti-gun posturing which may not pass muster in the courts, and in any case will NOT prevent violent criminals from shooting innocent people. Of course, people will pat themselves on the back and feel good because they’ve done something! Hogwash . . .

    Max R. Weller (once again a resident of Boulder, CO)

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