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Support For More Restrictive Firearms Laws Wanes In Colorado, Weeks After Shooting

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After the mass shooting in Boulder, Colo., last month, some Democrats in the state said they wanted to pass a statewide assault-style weapons ban. Talks on that are already stalling because, in part, of the state's strong culture of gun ownership. Colorado Public Radio's Bente Birkeland reports.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: Mario Acevedo lives in Denver. He's a novelist, a Democratic voter, and he owns guns. Two of his close family members also died due to gun violence.

MARIO ACEVEDO: It's this tremendous void that opens up inside of you that, frankly, never heals. So I understand how people are reacting to this because you want a solution. You don't want this to happen to anyone else.

BIRKELAND: But he says he does not think new gun laws provide the solution. Acevedo says the data has convinced him that gangs, drug trafficking and mental illness are the drivers of gun deaths, not firearms.

ACEVEDO: When Colorado passed a universal background check and the high-capacity magazine ban, that was done under the premise that it was going to prevent mass shootings. The state passed the red flag, the ERPO, law. That, again, was done on the premise of preventing mass shootings, and it didn't.

BIRKELAND: A possible statewide ban on assault-style weapons is also dividing Democratic lawmakers. Any major push is now looking increasingly less likely. Colorado's most high-profile advocate for stricter laws says now is not the time. Representative Tom Sullivan got into politics after his son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater shooting in 2012. He worries that a statewide ban would not be effective and would make it harder to pass other reforms.

TOM SULLIVAN: It diverts all of the attention. I mean, if we were to ban something here, I mean, it'd be very easy to go to any of the surrounding states.

BIRKELAND: After a gunman killed 10 people in Boulder, Democratic Governor Jared Polis says the state does need to do something. Polis says he wants to focus on making more people aware of the existing red flag gun law and strengthening background checks.

JARED POLIS: And what's striking from this case is how was this young man, who had a prior history of violent offense, able to legally buy a gun? I'm not - you know, I think he had two guns, right? I'm not concerned about the model of the gun at this point. Why was he able to buy a weapon when he had a recent conviction for a violent offense?

BIRKELAND: Dawn Reinfeld heads the Democratic group Blue Rising Together. She wants to see Colorado ban assault weapons. Reinfeld and other advocates say even if one particular policy won't stop every mass shooting or suicide, which account for most gun deaths in the state, they do save lives.

DAWN REINFELD: It's very disappointing.

BIRKELAND: Reinfeld says especially right now because Democrats control the state government.

REINFELD: It's going to take lots of different ways to attack this problem, but to just kind of throw our hands up in the air and say, let's just keep assault weapons on the streets, it's a very discouraging place to be.

BIRKELAND: Colorado Democrats are more unified on the need for a federal ban. Local Republicans are pushing Democrats to focus on mental health care instead.

For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALUM GRAHAM AND ANTOINE DUFOUR'S "GRACE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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