DENVER — It seems like a cycle in the United States, a mass shooting, the loss of countless innocent lives, thoughts and prayers, funerals and calls for something to change.
After each tragedy, communities collectively search for two answers: why did this happen and could it have been prevented?
For some, the answer is harsher criminal penalties, for others it’s a matter of providing more mental health resources, but inevitably the conversation always turns to guns.
Even before the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, lawmakers on a local, state and federal level were pushing for gun reforms.
However, gun reform in this country has long been a divisive topic, pitting Second Amendment supporters against reform advocates and leaving little room anything in between.
Nevertheless, the cycle of tragedy continues along with the pushes for reform.
Federal pushes for change
On a federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives already passed two bills dealing with background checks.
“It doesn’t have to be like this. I think that’s the thing that’s really important for people to know,” said U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, D-Aurora. “There are things we can do, common sense easy things that can save thousands of lives and prevent many of these tragedies.”
The first bill would close the so-called gun show loophole and expand background checks to include the sale or transfer of firearms among private individuals or groups. If passed, the requirements would also apply to online sales of guns.
In the House, eight Republicans voted for the bill and a single Democrat voted against it.
The second bill would close the so-called Charleston loophole which allows the sale of a gun to proceed if the background check takes longer than three days to pass. This process is how the man involved in the Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting was able to buy a gun.
If passed, this federal bill would change the date from three to 10 business days before the sale is allowed to continue.
“We need to have a baseline of protection and as a federal law maker that is my obligation,” Crow said.
The Aurora Democrat doesn’t believe that there is any one law that will stop the gun violence in our country, but he’s convinced each piece of gun reform legislation that passes saves lives.
The difficult part is quantifying a life that was spared due to the reforms rather than one that was lost due to violence.
“You can never prove a negative, the shootings that haven’t happened, the deaths that haven’t occurred as a result of that,” Crow said.
Still, the former Army Ranger says assault weapons are meant for war and shouldn’t be in schools, or churches or movie theaters.
He contends that the gun lobby in the U.S. is diminishing and that if lawmakers keep pushing change will happen federally.
“Let’s remember that there is no other industry, none, that has been is free from regulation and oversight and legislation as the gun lobby. There’s been more consumer safety and oversight on power tools. There’s more oversight on toy guns than there are on real guns. That’s wrong and it’s got to stop,” he said.
In recent days, President Joe Biden has offered his support for the gun reform legislation and says he will sign the bills if they make it to his desk.
Nevertheless, the U.S. Senate has yet to take up either of the gun reform bills and there’s growing concern that not all senate democrats are onboard with the bills.
Even if all democrats were onboard, the senate leadership currently does not appear to have the 60 votes it needs to pass either piece of legislation.
Colorado Democrats want the federal government did more on gun reform so that there are uniform rules across the country and someone can’t simply drive to a neighboring state to get around laws.
However, with so much disagreement on a federal level and controversy when it comes to gun legislation, Democratic Majority Leader Sen. Steve Fenberg isn’t holding his breath.
“We all basically know that Congress likely is not going to be able to act,” said Fenberg.
Colorado already has stricter gun laws on the books than the federal government. In 2013, the state passed a ban on high-capacity magazines, which Fenberg believes could have saved lives in the King Soopers shooting.
“He did not buy a high-capacity magazine and then use that in King Soopers and that’s because of a law we passed eight years ago. If he had, I fear that we would be talking about a lot more than 10 individuals,” Fenberg said.
In 2019, Colorado also passed the extreme risk protection order, otherwise known as the red flag law, that allows law enforcement, a family member or a household member to petition the state to temporarily remove firearms from someone deemed to pose a risk.
This year, Colorado is already considering two new gun bills, one to require the safe storage of firearms and another to require owners to report a lost or stolen gun within five days. Even more legislation might be on the way.
“I think we also need to remember there is no single solution to this problem. That shouldn’t be an excuse to not do anything,” he said.
However, Republican lawmakers like Sen. John Cooke disagree with the need for gun reform.
“We can pass all the gun control bills we want, I’m not sure that that’s the answer. The gun is an in animate object and I think we need to look at what sets off someone like this,” Cooke said.
The discussion of gun reforms on a state level have led to bitter, late night debates even this legislative session. However, with Democrats in control of the House, Senate and Governor’s Mansion, their pushes for reform are likely to pass.
All around Boulder, emotions are still very raw; there’s grief, sorrow, disbelief and even anger that yet another American tragedy has taken place.
“It’s just a shocking and horrible thing to have happen in your city,” said city councilmember Aaron Brockett.
Brockett was on the city council in 2018 when members approved an assault weapons ban in the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida.
Before it passed, the city council saw some opposition from within Boulder but Brockett says much more of the pushback came from outside the area with caravans of people showing up to parade around the downtown area with their guns.
Last week, a Boulder district court judge blocked the ban, saying it was unenforceable since state law says local governments don’t have the authority to stop the possession or sale of guns.
“I feel a real anger at that ruling that said that you’re not allowed to regulate these weapons of war, and then a few days later someone comes and uses one of them to murder members of our community,” Brockett said.
Even without the ruling, Brockett isn’t positive that the Boulder ban would have made any difference in the King Soopers shooting since the suspect travelled from Arvada.
Nevertheless, as a city councilmember, Brockett believes it’s his responsibility to do all he can to first minimize the chances that someone will commit a mass shooting and second minimize the damage they can do if another tragedy does occur.
“We should have an assault weapons ban on the national level like we did some years ago. Failing that, a state level ban would be better, and then if no higher levels of government are stepping up to support us than it’s our job at the city and municipal level,” he said.
Fenberg agrees that localities should be able to go beyond the minimum requirements set by the state and federal governments when it comes to gun laws.
“Should a community like Boulder be able to pass a law that bans assault weapons within city limits? I think absolutely. That’s something we have the authority here in the state legislature to change and so I’m looking into that,” he said.
However, Fenberg says he would not support cities having less restrictive laws than the state when it comes to guns.
Allowing cities to create and maintain their own rules can make things complicated for gun owners; the firearms they are allowed to have in one community might be banned in another.
Any legislation dealing with gun reform on a state or federal level is also likely to face severe pushback.
After every tragedy, there are those two questions that always arise: why did this happen and could it have been prevented?
There is no one answer to that question, but democrats insist gun reform must be part of the conversation.