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After Boulder shooting, Colorado lawmakers outline gun bills

James Anderson - Associated Press  | Published on 5/22/2021

DENVER (AP) — Responding to the Colorado supermarket shooting that killed 10 people, state Democratic lawmakers on Thursday outlined legislation that would create a state office dedicated to preventing gun violence, expand background checks and allow municipalities greater freedom to adopt their own gun control laws.

Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg told a Capitol news conference that the legislation likely would not have stopped the Boulder shooting from happening. But he said the package advances Democrats’ gun control initiatives this year that have included new laws requiring safe firearms storage and reporting of lost or stolen firearms.

After the Boulder supermarket attack, residents called for an assault-style weapons ban, but Fenberg said such a move would be largely ineffective without a nationwide ban. He repeated that Thursday but insisted preventing gun violence requires continual steps.

“There is nothing we can do to bring back the lives that were stolen from us,” said Fenberg, who represents Boulder. “We must continue to demand federal action on gun violence prevention.”

Lawmakers said the package includes a bill that would bar persons convicted of certain violent misdemeanors from buying a firearm for five years. The suspect in the March 22 Boulder supermarket shooting had been convicted of a third-degree misdemeanor assault charge, but authorities say he legally purchased a firearm days before the attack.

Another bill would close a loophole in state law that allows a gun buyer to obtain a weapon from a dealer if a background check hasn’t been completed within three days. It’s not immediately clear how that measure might be related to the Boulder shooting, but it has been a goal of gun-control activists since the man serving a life term for a 2017 attack that killed nine people inside a Charleston, South Carolina, church obtained a pistol used in the attack despite a background check delay.

Another bill would eliminate a statute that prohibits local municipalities from enacting gun regulations that are stricter than what state law allows. Citing that law, a state court had overturned a Boulder ban on assault weapons just days before the supermarket shooting, although authorities have said the suspect purchased his weapon in the neighboring Denver suburb of Arvada.

An Office of Gun Violence Prevention would collect data on shootings to craft initiatives to deter firearms use, said Sen. Rhonda Fields. Rep. Tom Sullivan, who like Fields has lost a son to gun violence, said the office would engage in community outreach and publicize existing laws, such as a so-called red flag law that allows, in certain instances, the surrender or seizure of firearms from persons deemed by a court to be a threat to themselves or others.

Ahwad Al Aliwi Alissa, 22, faces multiple murder and attempted murder charges in connection with the attack at a busy King Soopers supermarket that killed 10 people, including a police officer. He has not been asked to enter a plea pending a mental health evaluation sought by his public defenders.

Prosecutors have yet to say if they’ve determined a possible motive for the attack. Alissa’s next scheduled court appearance is May 25.

Republicans protested that they weren’t consulted on the legislation before Thursday’s announcement, which came as the Democrat-led Legislature enters its final weeks.

The House Minority leader, Rep. Hugh McKean, said Republicans were eager to continue work on expanding access to and funding for mental and behavioral health services, which he called a “root cause” of gun violence. But he blasted the idea of an Office of Gun Violence Prevention, saying that “the creation of new bureaucracies is never the solution” and “will only starve real efforts of scarce resources.” He also defended the current background check system as effective.

“Everyone from Republicans, Democrats, and independents is sick from the recent incidents of violence,” McKean said in a statement.

Boulder investigators have said Alissa legally purchased a Ruger AR-556 pistol used in the attack. The weapon resembles an AR-15 rifle with a slightly shorter stock. He bought it six days before the shooting after passing a background check.

Alissa also was armed with 10 high-capacity ammunition magazines, devices banned in Colorado after previous mass shootings, according to Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty.

Dougherty has said that Alissa unlawfully possessed the magazines that hold more than 15 rounds but that investigators don’t believe the magazines were purchased illegally. The high-capacity magazines were banned in Colorado after the 2012 mass shootings at a suburban Denver movie theater and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.