It’s pretty hard to take seriously the ability of hard-fought gun control laws in Colorado when you look at the monolith industry that local reformers are up against.
While passionate gun-law shapers like Democratic state legislators Rep. Tom Sullivan and Sen. Rhonda Fields continue to nudge ideas into bills and sometimes into laws, consider the foes.
A variety of business and government sources estimate there are currently about 400 million firearms in this country. U.S. gun manufacturers crank out anywhere from 11 million to 18 million more guns each year, and a few million more are imported. Estimates of gun and ammunition sales hover around $18 billion, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Overall impact, including gun sports like hunting, they estimate at more than $60 billion a year.
In fact, despite a new season of mass shootings across the nation, including in Boulder, the gun business has weathered the pandemic and recent gun-control efforts better than ever.
“Our industry is proud to be one of the bright spots in this economy,” NSSF officials said in a statement.
While Sullivan, Fields and others point to the almost 20,000 people who died last year because of gun violence — and those don’t count the additional 24,000 people who died from suicide by gunshot — gun rights activists keep impeding serious gun control.
Well meaning state measures passed in 2013 after the Aurora theater shooting limited the size of ammo cartridges and strengthened background checks. Neither of those things prevented Ahwad Al Aliwi Alissa, 22, of Arvada, from shooting dead 10 people in a Boulder King Soopers just a few weeks ago.
Neither did the state’s more recent and more meaningful foray into gun control, the 2019 Red Flag Law. That measure allows police or family members to force a court to decide if someone is too mentally unstable or distraught to be allowed access to their guns, or a gun purchase.
It’s hard to say how effective the measure has been at preventing gun violence and death. Kaiser Health News reports that the law has been invoked 141 times in the last 15 months. It could be that of the 900 or so average gun deaths each year in Colorado, 141 were avoided.
That still leaves hundreds of Coloradans killed by guns each year, mostly by suicide and accident.
Colorado made serious progress there this year, enacting a long-overdue gun-lock and safe storage law. That measure forces the sale and use of gun locks and requires reporting if a gun is lost or stolen. That part of the bill looks easier to get around. But simply keeping kids from being able to snag their parents’ gun from the sock drawer, load it and use it is a huge step forward.
“A horrific Aurora case in 2015 resulted in no charges against a father who carelessly left his handgun in a coat pocket, which was discovered by his 12-year-old son,” The Sentinel wrote a few weeks ago. “The boy knew where in the house the bullets were. While having friends over, with the parents not home, he got out the gun and ended up inadvertently shooting a 7-year-old friend in the head.”
The boy’s father was never charged. Under the new law, he would have.
But for all the tragedy, grief, thoughts, prayers, threats and good intentions, Colorado, and the nation, are still awash in a sea of guns and daily gun violence.
Last week, lawmakers announced another post-Boulder-massacre push for legislation this year, saying that an assault-weapons ban in Colorado is off the table. A group of pro-gun-control lawmakers, led by Democratic Senate Majority Leader Stephen Fenberg, said that a state ban on the gun of choice for mass murderers would be ineffective. It has to be a congressional mandate to work. Maybe.
It made curious the only new measure announced by the group that does hold promise this year: the ability for cities to make their own gun-control laws. The state Supreme Court ruled just shortly before the Boulder shooting that Boulder’s assault-weapon ban didn’t pass state Constitutional muster. Senate Bill 256 could change that.
But if an assault ban across just Colorado won’t work unless it’s nationwide, it begs the question what good local enhancements can do, even across the metro region.
Probably not much. Ahwad Al Aliwi Alissa brought his assault weapon to the Boulder murder after buying it in Arvada.
But there are a few things cities like Aurora should do immediately, and a few possibilities.
First, Aurora should ban weapons in all public places, other than gun ranges and retail stores. Already, city lawmakers ban guns from City Hall. The logic is simple.
The city also should ban so-called “public carry.” This odd form of exhibitionism comes in waves in Aurora. Gun aficionados taunt local cops by walking along busy streets or other public, visible places carrying a prominent gun, because they can. Like their indecent exposure counterparts, it’s all for shock value and getting a few likes on Youtube.
And for real? Require gun and ammo registration and annual registration fees. Start at $500 a year. Require gun safety classes to complete registration.
Just like the city commands hefty homeowner insurance fees for dangerous dogs, require gun owners to buy gun-owner insurance policies and allow the Aurora Department of Gun Safety to inspect and ensure safe storage of guns.
For those who want more than one gun? You have to get an Aurora collector’s permit, just like you do for cats.
Assault weapons? Gone.
The best? Require an annual physical and basic psych evaluation from a resident’s local family doctor as part of the annual permitting process.
Sure, if just Aurora steps up to create these ways to deter gun violence, groups like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the National Rifle Association and the rest supporting a $60 billion-year industry will rain legal hellfire and damnation all over us.
But if all of Colorado’s 142 cities and 64 counties did the same thing? Just half?
Maybe, state lawmakers are onto something after all.
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