Editorial: Ban assault weapons in Colorado to save lives in the next mass shooting

Semi-automatic guns with detachable magazines are a unique threat to public safety, having been designed specifically to unleash bullets rapidly while reducing reloading time to seconds. Colorado lawmakers have a clear and compelling interest in limiting mass casualty events by banning the sale of these “assault weapons,” and House Bill 1292 would save lives.

The bill, which has passed the Colorado House but now faces a tough road ahead in the Senate, defines “assault weapon” generally as a semi-automatic gun (both pistols and rifles) that has a detachable magazine and one other feature in a list of things designed to make the gun easier to wield in an active-shooter environment. The bill also includes the destructive .50 rifles in the ban because of their ability to be used as a long-range sniper rifle capable of penetrating cars and walls.

We saw the deadly effect of these guns on March 22, 2021, when a shooter stalked his victims through a Boulder King Soopers firing repeatedly at employees and shoppers using a Ruger AR-556 pistol that he had legally purchased six days earlier. Ten innocent store employees and customers were killed.

We saw the deadly effect on July 20, 2012, when a shooter walked into a dark movie theater in Aurora and indiscriminately opened fire using an AR-15 rifle with a 100-round magazine that he had purchased legally along with other weapons a mere three months before the attack. The toll was unbearable — 12 dead and 70 injured many suffering life-altering wounds.

Colorado lawmakers limited high-capacity magazines in response to 15 rounds of ammunition, a decision that perhaps limited the death toll in Boulder as police closed in on the suspect exchanging fire.

Coloradans know the outcomes of these shootings are different when the guns are less efficient killing machines.

At Arapahoe High School, Claire Davis was the first and only victim of a student who walked through the door with a shotgun intent on killing a specific teacher but killing Davis whom he passed on his way into the school. Davis was a beloved student and daughter. The community’s loss was great and could have been 10-fold had the shooter had an assault weapon.

At the Stem School in Highlands Ranch, heroes like Kendrick Castillo were able to bring down one of two shooters armed with a parent’s stolen .22-caliber rifle, a Glock 21 handgun, a 9mm Beretta pistol, and a revolver. The Glock and the Beretta likely had removable magazines with 10 to 15 rounds. One shooter told investigators he was able to fire all the bullets and empty two guns before he fled the room. The other shooter fired once, killing Castillo who had charged at the gunman with other students. Several students were injured in the shooting, but the outcome could have been worse with different guns and more magazines.

The evidence is clear across a country riddled with mass shootings that two things determine the survivability of these tragedies – the capabilities of the shooters and their firepower.

The most deadly shooting in America combined a ruthless killer’s years of preparation stockpiling weapons and practicing with a crowded Las Vegas outdoor music venue. Fifty-eight people were killed and two victims died of complications with their injuries in coming years.

House Bill 1292 would not have prevented what happened in Las Vegas. The shooter stockpiled weapons for years, and the bill before the Colorado Senate this week does not ban possession of assault weapons already owned by Coloradans, but only bans the sale or transfer of the guns.

But the bill would force the next mass shooter just now hatching plans of slaughter to steal or purchase illegally the same guns used in Vegas, a barrier that could reduce the death toll or even prevent a mass killing event. An FBI report released in 2018, found that 40% of all shooters purchased their guns legally in the weeks leading up to a planned attack, while about 35% of shooters already owned the weapons they used in their crimes.

Repeatedly, stretching back not just decades but centuries, America’s courts have held that none of our rights are absolute.

The U.S. and state governments can regulate the time, place, and manner of free speech and assembly. Students arrested at Palestinian-support protests this week on college campuses across the U.S. are learning this lesson just as those who built shanty towns to protest Apartheid in the 1980s. Free speech and assembly that disrupts a school, a business, or is conducted on private property can be regulated.

“A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

House Bill 1292 makes critical exceptions allowing active members of the U.S. military and the Colorado National Guard to purchase the weapons restricted by the legislation and it allows police officers and armored vehicle guards to purchase these weapons for their jobs.

The bill does not infringe on the right to keep and bear arms – it only places reasonable and necessary regulations on the capabilities of guns sold in Colorado.

The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that guns can be regulated. The standard has been set through numerous cases that the Second Amendment protects guns that are “in common use at the time.” Are semi-automatic weapons with detachable magazines in common use? Statistics tell us that there are millions of these guns in circulation, a fact attorneys are likely to latch onto if this bill becomes law and when the law is then challenged.

House Bill 1292 will still allow manufacturers to sell semi-automatic weapons as long as the magazine is permanently affixed or if the magazine is detachable, the gun does not include features designed to make it efficient and tactical in combat. This reasonable regulation of guns should pass constitutional muster. If students can get forcibly removed for preventing classes from being conducted, regardless of their message, deadly weapons can be reigned in to make Americans safer. Also, .50 caliber rifles are arguably not in common use and restricting their sale now before they become as ubiquitous as assault weapons is necessary.

We do see, however, the long list of banned guns in the bill as superfluous and inflammatory. Manufacturers can adjust to comply with the law without having legislation that targets their product’s names.

The bill does get one thing wrong. The Coloradans who own these guns, like the ubiquitous and popular AK-47, are using them for legal activities like hunting, range shooting, competitions and self-defense. Almost all of these gun owners are law-abiding citizens who own these guns responsibly. If mass shootings weren’t proliferating, if the threat weren’t so real and imminent, we would not regulate these guns.

Americans’ right to bear arms must be tempered with reasonable regulations that “insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”

The fear mass shooters wield over the public — fear of going to schools, concerts, 4th of July parades, movie theaters and work — is stripping the blessing of liberty from every American, every day, and the future looks no brighter for our children if we fail to act.

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