Colorado lawmakers express grief, anger over Boulder shooting and call for change

Colorado lawmakers call for change after Boulder shooting
Posted at 8:29 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-24 13:19:58-04

DENVER — With flags flying at half-staff over the Colorado state Capitol, a stream of speeches were heard from lawmakers about the Boulder mass shooting on the House and Senate floors.

“Our people, your people do not feel safe. I need to rephrase that. It’s not that we don’t feel safe, we’re not safe," said Rep. Karen McCormick, who represents Boulder.

One by one, Democrats and Republicans lined up to talk about their sorrow, their anger and their desire to do something to stop another tragedy from happening.

The speeches come one day after 10 people, including a Boulder police officer, lost their lives in a mass shooting at a local King Soopers grocery store. They are speeches that have been delivered on these floors before for the Columbine High School, Aurora theater, Arapahoe High School, STEM school shootings and many more.

On the House floor, Rep. Edie Hooton, D-Boulder, sobbed as she spoke about her community and said mass shootings are so common these days that it felt like it wasn’t a matter of if, but when a tragedy would strike Boulder. Others called for more bold action to be taken by the legislature.

“I don’t want to be silent. The victims won’t hear our silence,” said Rep. Judy Amabile, who represents Boulder.

Amabile called for the legislature to make it easier to get mental health services than to get a gun.

Meanwhile, Rep. Tom Sullivan spoke about his son Alex, who was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012, saying he knows what’s ahead for the families of the Boulder victims. As he often does, Sullivan wore his son’s leather jacket as he spoke, saying it brings him comfort knowing a piece of Alex is nearby.

“This is what gun violence looks like. This is what a survivor and a victim of gun violence looks like,” he said. “They can’t put us on a shelf and just bring us out around on the anniversary. They’re going to have to deal with us each and every day.”

Over on the Senate floor, Democrats expressed their anger that yet another tragedy has happened in Colorado.

“I don’t think it’s too soon to talk about policy or to talk about politics,” said Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder. “For these 10 individuals it’s too late.”

Fenberg said for so long, Coloradans have been looking forward to getting back to a sense of normal with the pandemic. Some of the people who were in the King Soopers in Boulder were there to get their vaccinations.

However, he said going back to normal seems to mean the rise of mass shootings once again, and that’s not a normal he wants to return to. He called on lawmakers to not only offer prayers but action.

“You pray because you don’t know the answers — probably because you need guidance. I don’t think we need to pray when it comes to this issue. We need to be leaders, and we need to have conversations about what we can do to keep people safe,” Fenberg said.

Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, who also lost own son to gun violence, asked where are people safe these days. She says recent tragedies have proven people aren’t safe in schools, malls, grocery stores, theaters, churches and more.

She said she is not in favor of defunding the police, and the latest tragedy highlights the reasons officers need access to resources.

“I was proud to see them show up in Boulder with the appropriate equipment they need to respond to an active shooting — with the force that they needed,” Fields said.

After the speeches, the House Judiciary Committee continued its work on a gun reform bill that’s making its way through the legislature. Senate Bill 21-078 would require gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm to a law enforcement agency within five days of discovering it was missing.

If not, a first offense would lead to a civil infraction punishable by a $25 fine. Another infraction after that would be considered a misdemeanor crime punishable by a $500 fine.

“I believe in your right to own firearms. I own firearms. I hunt. We need to be able to have discussions around gun violence prevention,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn.

Mullica called on Republican lawmakers to come to the table to discuss meaningful reform that will save lives and not automatically take a stance against certain bills simply because they deal with guns.

“Come to the table, and let’s be ready to work. This isn’t about taking your rights away. This isn't about taking your guns away. This is about making sure we are creating a safer community for everyone,” he said.

After hours of debate and disagreement, the bill has already passed the Senate. On Tuesday, the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee with a vote along party lines.

Another bill that would require firearms to be responsibly and securely stored is also making its way through the legislative process. Unlawful storage of the firearm would be considered a class 2 misdemeanor. It also requires licensed gun dealers to provide a locking device with each firearm they sell.

“We are making the progress. Singularly, any of those things you’re not going to see a major difference really, but collectively that’s what happens. Each one of these pieces of legislation is designed to save lives,” Sullivan said.

Meanwhile, some Republicans disagreed with the two bills making their way through the legislature, saying they won’t solve the issue.

“I don’t think these bills are going to make anyone safer. I think they’re going to make some people feel safer but that in reality, I don’t think it’s going to happen,” said Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley.

Cooke, a former Weld County sheriff, commended the quick actions of the law enforcement agencies that responded to Colorado’s latest mass shooting and offered condolences to the family of the officer who died while trying to protect his community.

He says any new legislation should not make the jobs of police officers more dangerous. He contends that lawmakers need to make it safer for police to do their jobs.

Something in particular he is concerned with is a jail reform bill that prohibits officers and deputies from arresting a person who committed a traffic offense, petty offense, municipal offense, misdemeanor crime, a class 4, 5 or 6 felony or a class 3 or 4 drug offense.

“What I think we need to look at is criminal control because the last several years we are changing sentencing reform. There’s bills this year that are letting criminals stay on the streets,” he said.

He also wants to see legislation that takes a closer look at what causes a person to commit a mass shooting rather than one that puts guardrails on guns.

During their speeches on the House and Senate floor, Democrats foreshadowed that more gun reform legislation might be on the horizon this legislative session. Two years ago, after much backlash, they were able to pass the extreme risk protection order bill.

It was the biggest change to state gun laws since 2013. After the 2013 laws, a massive recall campaign lead to the removal of two Democratic lawmakers.

After the red flag law was passed in 2019, Democratic lawmakers, like Sullivan, also faced recalls but were able to keep their seats. Democrats say they aren’t worried about losing their seats if it means passing meaningful reform.

“You can threaten me with recalls, you can threaten me politically, but I’m doing what I said I was going to do when I came down here," Mullica said, "and that’s to make sure my community is a little safer."