A proposed new law authored by the Boulder city attorney at the request of the City Councilwould ban, with some exceptions, the sale and possession of assault weapons, bump stocks and magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.
The council has scheduled a special single-topic meeting, to be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, to take public comment and then deliberate on the proposal.
“I hope and pray we never have a mass shooting in Boulder,” City Attorney Tom Carr said, “and what this ordinance is about is reducing, on the margins, the ease with which somebody could do that.
“If you look at most of the mass shootings, the guns were purchased legally. I see this as an ordinance that throws in one more barrier to someone who’s contemplating such a horrible act.”
The drafted law is the product of direction given by the City Council one week after the massacre at a Parkland, Fla., high school. Councilwoman Jill Adler Grano proposed, and received support for, consideration of a ban.
She called the proposal a “no-brainer.”
The law that Carr drafted was based in part, he said, on his probe of existing laws in Denver and Vail, plus a conversation with the Giffords Law Center. It offers a specific and technical definition of the term “assault weapon.”
The ordinance proposes to make the sale and possession of assault weapons — as defined by the city, anyway — bump stocks and certain magazines effective as of April 1.
That’s four days before the City Council will even discuss the proposal, and at least a couple weeks before anything is formally adopted by the council.
Carr said he proposed that timing try to dissuade people who may learn in the coming days about the potential law, then rush out to make would-be-illegal purchases before they council votes on adoption.
The ordinance would not require people to turn over assault weapons they already legally possess. It would simply ban them from selling or acquiring new ones after April 1.
How does the proposed law define “assault weapons”?
As City Attorney Tom Carr has drafted it, “assault weapons” are defined as:
• All semiautomatic rifles that have the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and that have any of the following characteristics: a pistol grip or thumbhole stock; a folding or telescoping stock; or any protruding grip or other device to allow the weapon to be stabilized with the non-trigger hand.
• All semi-automatic center-fire pistols that have any of the following characteristics: the capacity to accept a magazine other than in the pistol grip or any device to allow the weapon to be stabilized with the non-trigger hand.
• Any firearm which has been modified to be operable as an assault weapon as defined by the city, plus any part or combination or parts designed to convert a firearm into an assault weapon
Potential effect complicated
There are currently two gun stores in Boulder: Gunsport of Colorado, at 14th Street and Arapahoe Avenue, and Bison Tactical, located at Broadway and Pearl Street above Savory Spice Ship. For them, the law’s mandate would clearly be to stop selling the banned products
Representatives from both stores declined to comment for this story.
But for the consumer, the law’s potential effect is more complicated.
Carr has recommended exemptions for weapons owned by police, federal officers, military personnel; holders of federal firearms licenses, stamps or permits; and competitive shooters who are members of organized groups that gather for the purpose of competition.
Those who possess items subject to the drafted version of the law — assuming the council follows through on its apparent intent to pass a ban in some form, the final version could look quite different — would have to register their weapons with the Boulder Police Department.
Anyone found in violation of that would be first “educated and informed” by police, and then potentially would face up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine if they fail to come into compliance.
The proposed April 1 effective date presents a curious enforcement challenge for the city, because what’s to stop someone who buys a banned weapon after April 2 from telling police the weapon was purchased before the law’s effective date?
“I don’t know,” Carr said. “It could be that you might have them show receipts … or you might have people sign an affidavit under threat of perjury, but we have not worked out the registration system yet.”
There would be no registration system for bump stocks and banned magazines, though; as Carr’s written it, those items would be outright banned and have to simply be handed over.
Lawsuit anticipated, if measure passed
The city has no idea how many people in Boulder own the items that the council is considering banning.
But Boulder County Sheriff Joe Pelle said that assault weapons are quite popular, in his experience.
“I think there are a lot of people that own AR-15s and that kind of thing — what some people would call assault weapons,” Pelle said. “I think they’re very common. And also very common are large-capacity magazines.”
He couldn’t put a number on it, but he did add, “We get called constantly about people shooting in the mountains, on the forest. Our deputies went to over 600 of those calls last year, and they commonly encounter people with semi-automatic rifles and large-capacity magazines. It’s very, very, very common.”
Greg Testa, Boulder’s police chief, who said he supports the proposed ban, said, “I don’t have any idea how popular (assault weapons) are with Boulder residents.”
In theory, the drafted law would give law enforcement a better sense of how many people own these items in Boulder, since the weapons would have to be registered and the magazines and bump stocks turned in. The functioning of that system, however, relies upon voluntary participation of residents. And, as Carr admitted, it won’t be hard for law-abiding gun owners to be discrete and never have to register, or to buy banned items outside city limits and keep them at home.
He said he knows the law won’t prevent ownership of the potentially banned items in Boulder, but that he hopes it’ll still make a difference.
“The city’s law can’t curb gun violence, but the easy availability of assault weapons, I believe, has contributed to mass shootings, and I believe that’s what council is trying to address,” Carr said.
He’s also said that he expects the city to get sued if and when it passes a ban. He believes what he’s proposed is legally defensible, and the fact that a similar policy in Denver has twice been upheld in court gives him further confidence.
One group, the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, has already threatened a lawsuit.
“RMGO would request that the council abandon this effort,” the group wrote in an open letter in February. “Should the council elect not to, RMGO does anticipate litigation against the city to strike an ordinance down.”
Grano, the councilwoman who proposed this ban in the first place, issued a response: “Thank you for communicating this threat. I am sure that suing a home rule city for enacting common sense legislation that the majority of Americans support and that has been upheld elsewhere in the state and nation, at the same time as our children are being mauled down in their schools by assault weapons, will provide excellent publicity for your organization.”