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Opinion: Colorado lawmakers, including 3 Dems, kill assault weapon ban in committee crib

April 20, 2023, 11:45 am
Students getting off buses after being evacuated following a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch near Denver on May 7, 2019 (photo by Michael Ciaglo/Getty Images).

Editor’s note: This column first appeared on Colorado Newsline. In Vail and surrounding Eagle County, RealVail.com has for the past decade documented the ongoing debate over private ownership of military-style, semi-automatic assault rifles, including the Town of Vail’s current ban on such weapons. Real Vail has also delved deeply into the politics of the debate, even as gun fatalities have taken over as the leading cause of death for America’s young people.

Lawmakers in Colorado, a state as familiar as any with the unspeakable violence of mass shootings, have a moral obligation to ban assault weapons.

An AR-15-style assault weapon was used in most of the deadliest mass killings in America since 2012, including two massacres in Colorado. Some firearms are designed mainly for self-defense, hunting or sport. But not assault weapons like the semi-automatic AR-15. These are designed to slaughter human beings efficiently and prolifically, and, no matter what a person believes about the Second Amendment or “freedom,” they have no legitimate place in civilian life. It is only societal insanity that has permitted assault weapons to proliferate, and elected leaders have only cowardice or corruption to blame for their failure to ban them.

Quentin Young

Colorado leaders are now responsible for such failure.

Early this morning, after more than 13 hours of testimony during a committee hearing at the Colorado Capitol, a proposed assault weapons ban died on a 6-7 vote. Republicans almost universally oppose common-sense gun regulations. But Democrats have strong majorities in both chambers of the Legislature — the bill’s sorry fate is on them.

As introduced, House Bill 23-1230 would have banned the making, buying and selling of an assault weapon, for which the legislation provided a detailed definition. The bill notably did not ban the possession of an assault weapon, unlike in most of the handful of other states and the District of Columbia that have enacted bans on assault weapons.

But early Wednesday, bill sponsor Rep. Elisabeth Epps, a Denver Democrat, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that the legislation appeared to lack enough votes to succeed, and she offered to amend it to ban only bump stock devices, which are used to make a semi-automatic rifle function like an automatic one. Not even that concession saved the bill.

It was a shameful outcome, as Democratic Reps. Bob Marshall, Said Sharbini and Marc Snyder joined the committee’s four Republicans in defeating the bill.

Civilian-owned assault weapons like the AR-15 are inherently repugnant, and their appeal for mass shooters only adds a layer of disrepute to a core contemptibility.

The Capitol is within walking distance to East High School, the site of two shootings just this year. Almost 13,000 people have died from gun violence in the U.S. so far this year. Wednesday was the 109th day of 2023, and since Jan. 1 in the U.S. there has already been 165 mass shootings.

Assault weapons were not involved in every one of those shootings, but they warrant particular attention. Since the end of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004, the AR-15 has exploded in popularity — about 1 in 20 adults in the U.S. now owns one. It is increasingly the weapon of choice for mass shooters. And the guns are hideously lethal.

Let’s put something to rest: Second Amendment zealots protest that “assault weapon” is a misnomer and AR-15 rifles are not much different than other firearms commonly owned by civilians. False. The AR-15 was originally designed as a military weapon. Its killing power far exceeds that of typical handguns and other firearms suitable for self-defense.

“The AR-15 fires bullets at such a high velocity … that it can eviscerate multiple people in seconds,” The Washington Post reported last month. “A single bullet lands with a shock wave intense enough to blow apart a skull and demolish vital organs. The impact is even more acute on the compact body of a small child.”

The law enforcement officers who last year responded to the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, are often faulted for their reluctance to confront the assailant. What held them back? They feared what they described in real time as “a battle rifle” — the shooter’s AR-15.

Some argue that assault weapons bans are ineffective and don’t reduce mass shootings. Gun violence prevention advocates sometimes cite a study that purported to show that deaths from mass shootings were 70% less likely to occur during the 10-year federal assault weapons ban. A more reliable source, RAND, has determined, however, that the evidence of the effect assault weapons bans have on mass shootings is inconclusive.

But the justification for an assault weapons ban involves a moral imperative that goes way beyond the scope of these limited studies. Civilian-owned assault weapons like the AR-15 are inherently repugnant, and their appeal for mass shooters only adds a layer of disrepute to a core contemptibility.

A state-level assault weapons ban might not provide immediate relief to the nauseating routine of bloodshed across the country, but its larger purpose would be to signal a shift away from America’s death-cult devotion to firearms. It would be one advance among the many that are needed to return the nation to a survivable relationship to guns. A local government that adopts rules against fossil fuel extraction as a form of climate action doesn’t expect to stop global warming, but it knows it’s ethically bound to play a role in curbing climate change, and a thousand communities following suit could indeed make a difference.

Laws largely exist as an expression of society’s values and intent. As Epps testified, “Someone will say, ‘Well, the person who committed the shooting, if they hadn’t bought their product in Colorado, they’d have bought it elsewhere.’ Let them buy it elsewhere then.”

For now, Colorado lawmakers affirmed that the state values access to battle weapons over the people they rip apart. The project of achieving an assault weapons ban could take years, but this week elected officials squandered an opportunity to do the right thing.

Editor’s note 2: This opinion piece first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

One Response to Opinion: Colorado lawmakers, including 3 Dems, kill assault weapon ban in committee crib

  1. Pat Parrish Reply

    April 20, 2023 at 12:11 pm

    It is shameful that Colorado Democrats voted against banning assault weapons! I will be writing to each one of them!

    Pat Parrish
    Vail, CO

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