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Republican U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert during a Zoom committee hearing on natural resources.
Yes, it can happen here. Sudden, shocking and horrific gun violence. Devastating and changing so many lives forever. In fact, it has happened here.
Except mass shootings now happen at such a rapid rate around America that they’re not all that shocking anymore. So far in 2023 there have been more than 565 mass shootings (four or more victims shot or killed), including 18 people murdered at a bowling alley and a bar in Lewiston, Maine, last week. That mentally-ill killer was trained by our military and armed with a military-style assault weapon that he purchased legally.
Never in a Colorado ski town, though, right? Nov. 7, 2009, an out-of-control and argumentative Vail man with a known history of mental health issues and gun violations was asked to leave the Sandbar in West Vail. He returned with a .45 caliber handgun and killed Dr. Gary Kitching of Carbondale and wounded three others before being arrested. The murderer whose name doesn’t deserve to be immortalized is spending the rest of his life in jail.
Vail’s primary public high school, Battle Mountain, was terrorized by written threats of a shooting and suicide at the end of the school year in 2017, and a student was arrested for making threats in 2018. And once our kids graduate and move away, they have been the victims of gun violence in places seemingly as safe as Boulder and Salt Lake City, Utah.
“I want everyone to know about Rory. I want it to go viral,” Robb Swimm said of his son Rory’s alleged murder by two 15-year-olds with a gun in Salt Lake City on Oct. 13. “That bullet’s path of destruction is enormous and it’s still continuing. Someone’s precious Second Amendment right has taken our boy’s life, just for the cowardly right to bear arms, Rory lost all of his rights, all of his freedoms forever.”
Depending on the type of gun used in the shooting, the teenagers likely did not have a legal right to possess the weapon, which points to a broader problem that transcends the ridiculous argument that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees the unfettered right to own any and all types of guns with absolutely no restrictions.
The problem is that America is simply awash in guns. They are far too easy to obtain – legally or otherwise — and we have created a culture where guns are seen as a means to win an argument, solve difficult differences and gain a form of sick notoriety. With more guns in America than Americans, it is not surprising that our nation has the highest level of private gun ownership and one of the highest rates of gun deaths and injuries in the world.
But this on Friday from newly appointed U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, a Louisiana Republican: “At the end of the day, the problem is the human heart. It’s not guns. It’s not the weapons.” The heart, not the head, which is the usual GOP and gun industry talking point that American’s seemingly incessant epidemic of gun violence is purely a mental health issue.
The majority of Americans want a variety of legislative and law enforcement gun-safety and mental health solutions, including nationwide, universal background checks, the shutting down of gun show and private-sales loopholes and, increasingly, a national red-flag law like Colorado’s that might have prevented the Maine murders. A growing electorate, especially the swelling ranks of Gen Z voters, want assault weapons banned the way they are in Vail.
“[Assault weapons ownership] makes no sense to me,” former Vail Town Council member Merv Lapin, who spearheaded Vail’s ban in 1994, told RealVail.com in 2013. “There’s no correlation between the Second Amendment and having an AR-15 [assault rifle]. To protect ourselves against the government? The government has atomic bombs. Does that mean that we should have one too? The argument just gets ridiculous.”
Contrast that with what U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, a far-right, gun enthusiast Republican congresswoman from Silt, told RealVail.com in 2020 when asked about armed men threatening lawmakers at the state capitol in Lansing, Michigan that year:
“That’s not something that I would do. I don’t use my Second Amendment rights to intimidate others,” said Boebert, a Jan. 6 election-denier. “[The Second Amendment] is for my protection and it is a protection against a tyrannical government, and so I don’t see that we would ever have to use our Second Amendment rights against our government, but that is what it’s for. It’s not for hunting. It’s not for target shooting or for sport.”
The Second Amendment actually reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Do we actually think the framers intended that vague wording to include weapons of war for teenagers whose brains are still developing? Or assault rifles for people with mental illnesses so pronounced that the military sent warnings to local police? Obviously quite a few people do think that’s what 2A is all about.
How about Republican Georgia U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene saying that if she ran the Jan. 6 insurrection seeking to illegally overturn Democratic President Joe Biden’s lawful election in 2020, “we would have won” and “it would’ve been armed”?
GOP extremists not only want to take away our right to safely go out in public without being gunned downed, but they also want to take away our right to vote for our president of choice. Biden’s White House is still pushing hard for more regulation, even if Congress remains hopelessly gridlocked and therefore complicit in the national slaughter, and Colorado, at least, keeps trying to pass more commonsense gun laws.
Longtime, former Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger in 2019 testified before state lawmakers in support of Colorado’s red-flag law, which allows family members or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily confiscate guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek opposed Colorado’s red-flag law after the fact.
Henninger is a former president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police who earlier this year retired as Vail’s top cop to take a newly created position with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms as the Senior Law Enforcement Partnership Advisor in Washington, D.C.
In 2013, Henninger told RealVail.com that reinstating a national ban on assault weapons, which were prohibited by Congress from 1994 to 2004, would be a 20-year project: “Even if tomorrow we were to ban all new assault-rifle sales, we would still be dealing with these for a very long time. Why not start today? How many more Newtown type events do we need to have before we can make a decision that this isn’t what we need in our communities?” That was 10 years ago.
“No one’s talking about hunting rifles and handguns,” Henninger added. “We’re talking about assault rifles with high-capacity magazines that are really only made to kill people … and I think it has to be a federal law because right now we see some states have much more liberal laws and then those weapons are found in a number of different areas … [including] down in Mexico, where they’re killing police officers and military folks on a regular basis.”
As a member of Gen X, allow me to apologize to you, Gen Z. We (Boomers, Gen X, Millennials) have failed to provide you with your basic constitutional right of public safety. It’s now up to you to save us by voting early, voting often, and doing so in the name of Rory Swimm and his countless fellow victims of senseless gun violence.