The city of Boulder, CO became the latest in a devastating history of Colorado shootings on Monday, March 22, 2021, leaving 10 dead and sending shockwaves through the community. Mass shootings in the U.S. have become a sort of crisis in recent years, with 11 of the worst mass shootings having occurred since 2015. In Colorado, in particular, the issue seems particularly prevalent.
Sure, the greatest number of mass shootings in the U.S. since 1982 have occurred in California, Texas, and Florida, but those three states also have a much higher population --ranked in the top 5 for most populous states. Colorado, meanwhile, hovers around number 20. What’s even more concerning than the fact that Colorado has the fifth-highest number of mass shootings since 1982: it has 3 mass shootings in the top 25 deadliest, a number surpassed only by Texas and equaled by Florida and California.
An assortment of flowers, candles, and messages cover the fence in front of the scene of the 2021 Boulder shooting. (Photo credit: Simone Beauchamp)
“It’s horrible that this is a recurring event in Colorado as well as many other states,” said senior Eva Reish. It’s both traumatizing and desensitizing for too many Coloradoans. From the Columbine High School shooting in 1999 to the Aurora theater shooting in 2012 and now to the Boulder King Soopers shooting on March 22, 2021, Colorado is, unfortunately, a state with a calamitous history of shootings.
It begs the question: Why? Why Colorado? And after the most recent tragedy, many residents and Colorado natives are seeking answers, looking for new solutions to old systems. One such system: gun control.
A sign reading "Stop the Madness, Ban Assault Weapons, Call Your Representatives" is left at the memorial site for the Boulder shooting. (Photo credit: Simone Beauchamp)
In comparison with other states, Colorado’s laws surrounding gun ownership and carrying fall in about the middle: not notably strict but not notably relaxed either. Colorado is considered an “open-carry” state, meaning one can carry an unconcealed firearm without a permit, but with restrictions on who is carrying and where. For example, you must be 18 or older and not a convicted felon, and firearms may not be carried on federal, government, or school property. Open carrying does not apply to machine guns, short shotguns or short rifles. Carrying a loaded firearm in private vehicles is only allowed if the firearm in question is a pistol or revolver, but carrying a loaded firearm in public transportation is altogether prohibited.
Colorado is also a “shall-issue” state, which means a license is required to carry a concealed firearm. In our state, a license must be obtained through a county’s sheriff, and one must meet certain requirements to be issued a license, including being 21 or over, meeting eligibility to carry a firearm (i.e. not being a felon), proving to not chronically or habitually use alcoholic beverages or controlled substances, and showing proof of competence with a firearm --through proof of current or past military or law enforcement experience, proof of participation in organized shooting competitions, or a firearm training certificate. However, the issuing and suspension of a license is ultimately up to the sheriff’s judgment, according to CRS 18-12-203.
Gun restrictions in Colorado also vary by county and city. The city of Denver, for example, does not allow open carrying. And in fact, 10 days before the Boulder shooting, A Boulder County judge ruled that Boulder’s 2018 ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines was invalid because it conflicted with state law. The suspect in the shooting, a resident of Arvada, Colorado, purchased an assault rifle 4 days later, on March 16, 2021. This is not to say that the suspect could have been stopped if the judge had ruled differently. Rather, the timing of these two events serves to illustrate the increasing relevance of gun laws in Colorado.
A large banner reading "#Boulderstrong" hangs alongside victims' names outside the Boulder King Soopers. (Photo credit: Simone Beauchamp)
Colorado isn’t necessarily relaxed about its gun laws, compared to states like Mississippi --which has only had 1 mass shooting since 1982-- and Arizona --a state with a larger population than Colorado but only 1 mass shooting since 1982. Both Mississippi and Arizona are open and constitutional carry states, meaning residents can legally carry a handgun openly or concealed without a license or permit.
Texas, another state with a high number of mass shootings, also allows open carrying --as long as one has a license and holster-- with some restrictions. California, on the other hand, has the most number of mass shootings since 1982 but does not allow open carrying and generally has more restrictions on gun ownership than Texas and Colorado. All of the top 5 states with the most mass shootings do not allow constitutional carry.
Recurrent mass shootings are not a single-solution issue. Gun laws have become a hot debate topic in America, as has another major contributor to many of the tragedies. Mental health is often ignored.
Under federal law, it is prohibited to sell a firearm or any ammunition to someone who has been deemed mentally unwell or admitted to any mental hospital, according to 18 U.S.C. § 922(d). Only four states do not have separate, more detailed gun laws related to mental illnesses, Colorado included.
A reporter outside the scene of the March 22 shooting photographs passersby as they add bouquets to the memorial site 2 days after the event. (Photo credit: Simone Beauchamp)
“The recent Boulder shooting was a tragedy,” Reish said. “It was a careless act of violence in one of the most loving communities in the U.S.” Undoubtedly, this community will not be the same after such an act of violence. The process of recovery and healing is often long and arduous.
“This has already put a large scar on the Boulder community, but from what I’ve seen it’s brought many people together, and many donations have been made,” Reish said, explaining that over one million dollars have been donated to Kroger, King Soopers’ parent company, for Boulder’s healing.
While donations, of course, help, for many, peace of mind cannot be reached until a change is made. In order to create change, we must first examine our current systems and their flaws that allowed such a tragedy to happen, however complex. And so we must continue to ask, “Why Colorado?”