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Judge blocked Boulder assault weapon ban 10 days before supermarket shooting

Mass shootings reignite debate over gun laws
Two mass shootings reignite debate over tougher gun measures 06:33

A judge in Colorado blocked Boulder's two-year-old ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines earlier this month — less than two weeks later, 10 people were killed during a mass shooting at one of the city's supermarkets. According to the affidavit, investigators determined that the suspect, Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa,  purchased an assault rifle on March 16, 2021.

Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled on March 12 that the 2018 ban, which outlawed the possession, sale or transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines (LCMs), was invalid because it runs contrary to state law. 

"The Court finds that the Ordinance's Assault Weapons Possession, Sale, and Transfer Ban is operationally preempted because it materially impedes the state's interest in firearms regulation, and it forbids what state law authorizes," reads Hartman's ruling. He pointed to the state legislature's declaration that firearms regulation is a state interest, in order to prevent "a patchwork of inconsistent local laws involving firearms," and to best protect Coloradans. 

"The Court finds that the need for statewide uniformity favors the state's interest in regulating assault weapons and LCMs," Hartman wrote. "Statewide uniformity in regulations prohibiting the possession and transfer of assault weapons and LCMs aligns with the legislature's declared interest in protecting citizen's fundamental right to bear arm and consistent treatment under criminal law."

Attorneys for Boulder argued that the city ordinance was necessary because state law does not address assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. Hartman ruled the omission was intentional — listing other weapons prohibited under state law — and therefore by choosing not to include assault weapons and large-capacity magazines the state had in fact addressed them.

"The General Assembly has enacted comprehensive scheme regulating firearms and ammunition ... which includes the prohibition of magazine capable of accepting more than 15 rounds," he wrote. "That assault weapons are plainly omitted from the list of 'dangerous and illegal weapons' and are therefore not prohibited under Colorado law, suggests an intent to make lawful the possession of assault weapons in Colorado in light of the comprehensive nature of the firearm scheme and the prohibition of LCMs accepting more than 15 rounds."

Boulder's ordinance outlawed ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. 

Authorities on Tuesday identified the 10 people killed during Monday's shooting at King Soopers grocery store. The victims ranged in age from 20 to 65. 

Alissa, a 21-year-old man from Arvada, Colorado, has been charged with 10 counts of murder in the first degree for the shooting, according to Police Chief Maris Herold. Using law enforcement databases, investigators determined that Alissa purchased a Ruger AR- 556 pistol on March 16, 2021, according to the affidavit for the arrest warrant.

"This cannot be our new normal… we need to see a change, because we have lost far too many lives," Congressman Joe Neguse said at a press conference Tuesday. 

Former Boulder Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano, who introduced Boulder's assault weapons ban and now works as the director of community affairs for Neguse, said at the time that the city's ordinance was in an effort to prevent mass tragedies, like those in neighboring cities Columbine and Aurora

"I don't see this as taking away Second Amendment rights," Grano said, according to Complete Colorado. "The Second Amendment does not protect assault weapons. There have been hundreds and hundreds of mass shootings in America. This is a long overdue proposal. I think it's time to say enough, not in the city of Boulder."

The National Rifle Association issued a celebratory press release after Boulder's assault weapon ban was struck down. The organization's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) supported the case. 

"The city council should have listened to the city attorney. His repeated attempts to warn them that they did not have the authority to pass these ordinances were cited throughout the opinion," reads the statement. "The opinion is also very thoroughly and thoughtfully written, which will make it even harder to overturn, should the city appeal it."

The NRA said Boulder's loss should be used as precedent against other cities "who are considering passing any similar counterproductive ordinances."

Assault weapons were banned across the country for 10 years under the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, commonly called the Assault Weapons ban, until 2004 when Congress failed to reauthorize the ban. Many states have since passed their own assault weapons laws, some more stringent than the federal ban.

President Biden was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Congress passed the ban. He wrote in a 2019 New York Times op-ed that, if elected president, he would push to ban them again. 

"Assault weapons — military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly — are a threat to our national security, and we should treat them as such," Mr. Biden wrote. "Anyone who pretends there's nothing we can do is lying — and holding that view should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to lead our country."

Monday's tragedy in Colorado is the second mass shooting since Mr. Biden took office. Eight people were killed the week prior in shootings at three spas around Atlanta, Georgia.

The president urged support for a ban on assault weapons on Tuesday, and called on the Senate to immediately pass House legislation to close background check loopholes. "We have to act," he said.

California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was an architect of the original ban, has called for it to be reauthorized and updated. She noted at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence Tuesday reports that the Colorado shooter used an AR-15, which was also used in recent mass shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, Dayton, Ohio, Parkland, Florida, and Sandy Hook Elementary. 

She also pointed out that violent gun massacres dropped by 37 percent during the 10 year ban, but there was an "183 percent increase in massacres" in the 10 years after the ban expired.

"All our hearts go out to all the families who lost a loved one yesterday, and the law enforcement who risk their lives in the line of duty," Feinstein said. "But, that doesn't cure the problem."

In response to Feinstein's call for a renewed federal assault weapon ban, Colorado Republican freshman congresswoman Lauren Boebert tweeted on March 14, two days after Boulder's ordinance was struck down, that "any politician who calls on guns to be banned should insist their security is also disarmed."

Colorado's Democratic Governor Jared Polis said Tuesday that the public should not accept Monday's massacre as "normal."

"This has been a painful year. And we sit here, once again, surrounded by seemingly incomprehensible, senseless loss," he said. "This is a pain that we need to sit with. We can't ever let ourselves become numb to the pain, because we simply can't let this be accepted as anything close to normal occurrence."

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