A Court Stopped Boulder From Banning Assault Weapons Just Days Before a Deadly Mass Shooting

A shooting at a grocery store has ended in the deaths of 10 people, including one police officer.
March 23, 2021, 2:06pm
Tactical police units respond to the scene of a King Soopers grocery store after a shooting on March 22, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado. Dozens of police responded to the afternoon shooting in which at least one witness described three people who appeared to b
Tactical police units respond to the scene of a King Soopers grocery store after a shooting on March 22, 2021 in Boulder, Colorado. (Photo by Chet Strange/Getty Images)

A court struck down an attempt from the city of Boulder, Colorado, to ban assault weapons, less than two weeks before 10 people were shot and killed in a mass shooting at a grocery store in the city. 

The Boulder City Council voted unanimously in May 2018 to pass a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. But on March 12, Boulder County District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled that the city couldn’t enforce the ban because Colorado state law preempted the city’s ordinance. 

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“The Court has determined that only Colorado state (or federal) law can prohibit the possession, sale and transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines,” Hartman wrote in his decision.

A Boulder spokesperson said last week that the city was weighing its options whether to appeal or drop the case. 

The National Rifle Association celebrated the court decision that struck down Boulder’s assault rifle ban, tweeting that Hartman “gave law-abiding gun owners something to celebrate.”

“The city council should have listened to the city attorney. His repeated attempts to warn them that they did not have the authority to pass these ordinances were cited throughout the opinion,” the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action wrote in a March 15 press release. “The opinion is also very thoroughly and thoughtfully written, which will make it even harder to overturn, should the city appeal it.”

Just days later, 10 people lay dead at a King Soopers Supermarket in Boulder, including 51-year-old Boulder police officer Eric Talley, who was the first to respond to the shooting. The Boulder Police Department later said they had arrested a “person of interest” in the case. 

"As spring sprung this weekend, and vaccines continue to get into arms, lightness creeped back in only for the darkness to descend on us today," Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in a Monday statement. "Today we saw the face of evil."

Monday’s killings were just the latest in a long line of high-profile mass shootings to devastate Colorado. The Denver metropolitan area had seen more mass school shootings between 1999 and 2019 than any other of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., and Colorado ranked in the top five states for mass shootings at schools and overall, according to a 2019 analysis by the Denver Post

On April 20, 1999, Columbine High School seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris murdered 10 students and a teacher, and injured dozens of others before killing themselves. The act of violence ushered in an era of school shootings which has been defining for U.S. students ever since.  

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In 1993, 18-year-old Nathan Dunlap shot and killed four people inside the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant in Aurora, from which he had recently been fired. Gov. Jared Polis granted clemency to Dunlap and two other death row inmates after signing a bill repealing the death penalty last year. 

During a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” on July 20, 2012, James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others at a movie theater in Aurora. He was later convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

And in May of 2019, just weeks after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine massacre, two high school students at STEM School Highlands Ranch shot nine other students, killing one. 

A survivor of the shooting in Boulder yesterday, Ryan Borowski, told CNN that once people inside the King Soopers grocery store began hearing gunshots, they ran to the back of the store while workers helped get them out the back door. Despite Colorado’s history of mass shootings, Borowski told CNN that he couldn’t have imagined a mass shooting taking place in the easygoing college town before Monday. 

"Boulder feels like a bubble and the bubble burst and that's heartbreaking,” Borowski said.