My home state of Colorado has suffered another in a series of mass shootings.
I grew up in Littleton, home of the first mass school shooting, at Columbine High School, which my niece and nephew attended in the shadow of those murders, living with the anxiety that they, too, could be shot in those same classrooms.
At the time, in 1999, I wrote a piece for Salon about how it didn’t surprise me that it had happened in my hometown. I tried to get sociological on the situation: Coloradans have always had a Wild West affinity for guns, which didn’t mix well with rapid development and alienation. Something was bound to explode.
Now I look at the situation that happened in Boulder, where ten people, including a police officer, were murdered, and I no longer try to come up with such a complicated explanation for how it happened.
How it happened is obvious. Assault rifles are for sale to anyone who wants to buy them. Less regulated than renting a car or buying a bottle of wine. While everyone is searching for a motive or an explanation, it’s right in front of our faces: military-level weapons, designed for mass murder, for sale at your local gun store.
Add to that the trail of reports about the murderer’s violence, and it doesn’t seem like anyone is trying very hard to stop this kind of mass killing. There may be a copycat element in some of these mass murders, especially in Colorado, of deranged terrorists who admire Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine murderers.
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But who cares about the motive? As long as there are violent people out there with access to guns made for massacres, they will use them to massacre.
People in Colorado like their guns because it is a largely rural state, and people like to hunt. Fine. Hunt with a hunting rifle. Take a class to learn to use it. Register it and keep it under lock and key. No one’s really arguing to take those away.
But most hunters I know think the idea that anyone would hunt with an assault rifle is obscene. Those weapons are only made for mass murder. And then we are surprised when we have mass murders.
The City of Boulder had passed an ordinance in 2018, after the Parkland, Florida mass shooting, prohibiting the very kind of assault gun used in this mass shooting (the killer had purchased an AR-15-style firearm six days before the shooting). The law banned the possession, transfer and sale of most shotguns and certain pistols and semiautomatic rifles, as well as large-capacity magazines, and created a permitting system for people who previously owned those guns.
On the day of the vote, gun activists from around the state descended on liberal Boulder to protest, many carrying concealed weapons.
But the law wasn’t in compliance with a state law that says cities and counties can’t restrict guns that are otherwise legal under federal and state law, and so it was overturned.
The Colorado State Shooting Association was one of the plaintiffs that sued Boulder over the assault weapons ban. It released a statement after the Boulder shooting: “There will be a time for the debate on gun laws. But today is not the time.”
If not now, when?
Why do communities allow the sale of assault weapons that any terrorist can use to kill children, policy, community members?
In Colorado, no surprise, many politicians have been heavily funded by the NRA. Data from ProPublica and the Federal Election Commission show that the NRA spent a total of $878,366 across four congressional districts in the 2020 election, the majority of that ($509,441) opposing Democrat John Hickenlooper for US Senate.
That may be changing as the state has shifted in the past decade from bright red to mostly blue. Hickenlooper, a Democrat and former governor, ousted Cory Gardner, a Republican who sided with Trump 90 percent of the time, and who received $4 million in funding from the NRA. The state legislature is also majority Democratic, so there is a chance that they can overturn the law that made Boulder’s sensible gun restrictions illegal.
But Colorado still elected gun-toting Lauren Boebert to Congress. She owns the “Shooter’s Grill” in Rifle, Colorado, and has ties to the Proud Boys and other white terrorists.
Two hours after the Boulder shooting, she used the occasion as a fundraising opportunity, tweeting, “I told Beto ‘HELL NO’ to taking our guns. Now we need to tell Joe Biden.”
She followed up with a generic “prayers are with them” tweet for families of the victims.