Boulder Judge Ends Assault Weapons Ban Amid National Debate Over Gun Control

March 24, 2021 Updated: March 24, 2021

The Boulder, Colorado supermarket shooting that left 10 people dead on Monday has put a spotlight on a recent court decision that blocked the city from enforcing a ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Boulder County District Judge Andrew Hartman on March 12 agreed with plaintiffs that Boulder’s ban on possessing and transferring commonly-possessed “assault weapons” and ten-round magazines were not allowed under city law, effectively overturning the ban.

He wrote in his order (pdf), “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.”

The ordinances that Hartman overturned in his ruling were passed by Boulder City Council after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida.

The alleged shooter arrested on Monday had purchased an assault weapon he used in the shooting just six days prior, on March 16, according to an affidavit released on Tuesday.

An assault weapon is defined generally as any variety of automatic or semiautomatic firearms.

The Senate Judiciary Committee convened a hearing on Tuesday morning, titled “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence,” where senators heard testimonies for and against current gun laws proposed by Democrats that has garnered little Republican support.

The House passed two bills last week that would tighten gun sales regulations, sending the measures to a divided Senate. The two bills—H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, and H.R. 1446, the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021—would expand background checks on individuals seeking to purchase or transfer firearms.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) criticized Republicans for their opposition to what he called “common sense” gun laws.

“And we have a Majority Leader in the United States Senate who has promised a vote on constitutional common-sense gun violence prevention measures. Our opponents, are on their heels, the NRA declaring financial and really a moral bankruptcy,” said Blumenthal. “We need to end this epidemic [of gun violence] with a comprehensive nationwide approach expanded background checks, extreme risk laws to prevent suicides, mass shootings, and hate crime.”

Senators debated what measures would be most effective in preventing mass shootings. Democrats spoke in favor of universal and comprehensive background check laws like H.R. 8 and H.R. 1446. Republicans argued that measures similar to the proposed laws have been known to have little impact on mass shootings.

President Joe Biden on Tuesday called on Congress to pass the bills and take additional measures to ban assault weapons.

“I don’t need to wait another minute, let alone an hour, to take common-sense steps that will save the lives in the future and urge my colleagues in the House and Senate to act,” Biden said Tuesday.

While the majority of Democrats support the bills passed in the House and other recent gun control measures, Republicans, like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), oppose such measures saying they have little to no effect on stopping mass shootings.

“What they [Democrats] propose not only does it not reduce crime, it makes it worse.  The jurisdictions in this country with the strictest gun control have among the highest rates of crime and murder. When you disarm law-abiding citizens, you make them more likely to be victims,” Cruz said.

Cruz pointed to a bill that he and Senator Chuck Grassley first introduced in 2013, called the Grassley/Cruz bill, and was later renamed as the “Protecting Communities and Preserving the Second Amendment Act of 2018.”

Cruz said if their bill had passed, it would have likely prevented the Sutherland Springs mass shooting at the Stonewall Douglas High School in Florida.

“Senator Grassley and I together introduced legislation Grassley/Cruz targeted at violent criminals, targeted at felons, targeted at fugitives, targeted at those with serious mental disease to stop them from getting firearms to put them in prison when they try to illegally buy a gun,” he said.